Series10 Apr 2017

My greatest challenge – Marcin Lewandowski


Marcin Lewandowski after the 800m at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015 (© Getty Images)

European indoor 1500m champion and three-time world 800m finalist has been one of the most consistent middle-distance runners for the past decade. The vastly experienced Pole talks about how he overcame a passport nightmare on the eve of the IAAF World Championships Moscow 2013.

Last-minute travel woes

“I am always 100% focused when it comes to the track, so my greatest challenge occurred away from the track ahead of the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow.

“I was training in St Moritz, Switzerland, but instead of travelling with the Polish federation from Warsaw, I decided to travel from Zurich to Moscow two days before I was due to compete in the 800m heats (in Moscow).

“I had everything ready at the airport – my passport and visa – when the woman at the check-in desk said because my passport picture page was slightly damaged, there was no chance I could travel to Moscow. I was really frustrated and I called the supervisor, but received the same answer. I called a woman from the Polish federation who put me on to the organiser of the World Championships in Moscow. He tried to help but I still had the same problem and then I even called the airline I was due to fly with. I used every weapon in my armoury, but I still faced the same problem.

“I then called my coach and brother, Tomasz, and told him, ‘I’m done; I’m not going to Moscow.’ I had so many emotions going on inside me. I sacrifice so much of my time to track and field. I leave my family at home for 250 days a year to train. I always say track and field is like my second wife.

“Tomasz, who is already in Moscow, calms me down and says, ‘Marcin, we have to do something to get you there. Why don’t you buy another ticket and we’ll figure something out?’ I stayed in the airport two hours, but still the same. I buy a third ticket and try to check in at a different desk, but I still received the same answer.

“By this point it is late evening so I book in at the nearest hotel. I wake up the next day – which is the day before my 800m heats – and take a two-hour train journey to the Polish embassy situated in Berne.

“I told them my story. They were very nice and within about 30 minutes I had a new passport. They told me a new visa would be no problem, so I finally thought I had everything figured. I was told to meet someone at the Russian embassy; when I arrived, I briefly met him only to never see him again. Someone from the Polish embassy arrived to speak with someone from the Russian embassy and an hour or so later I had my visa.

“But this was not yet the end of my story.

“I took a train direct to Zurich and arrived to catch the final flight that night to Moscow only 20 minutes before the gate was shut. By the time I arrived in my hotel room in Moscow, it was midnight. I tried to go to sleep, only to receive a knock on the door. It was doping control. I eventually got to bed at 1:30am and I had to be up at 6am for the morning heats.

“Fortunately, despite all the problems I had making it to Moscow, I ran 1:47.83 to finish second in my heat and progress through to the semi-finals. I controlled the race and ran the sort of time I can usually run in my sleep.

“After the race when my Polish physiotherapist got to work, he said because of all the emotions and nerves he had never seen my legs in such a state – they were like huge stones.”

Lewandowski went on to finish fourth in the 800m final in 1:44.08, his fastest time and highest finish in a global championships final.

Steve Landells for the IAAF