Winter meetings with Olympians

Dziś rozpoczynają się Zimowe Igrzyska Olimpijskie 2018.
Die XXIII. Olympischen Winterspiele finden vom 9. bis 25. Februar 2018 in der südkoreanischen Stadt Pyeongchang statt.
2018 Winter Olympics!

Link do wersji polskiej

Lech Milewski

Once upon a time… when I reached noble age of 50, I spent my birthday in the mountains.

It was end of July, winter in Australia, I planned to have downhill skiing holidays.
Next day after my arrival a very strong wind came, so they had to close the ski lifts. I went to the store to return hired skis.
– Maybe you would try touring skis? – they suggested.
– Touring skis? And where can I ski on them?
– Everywhere.

I skied into the forest, wandered in a deep snow for hours. Returned to a ski lodge a different person.

Couple of days later the wind stopped, sun returned, my family arrived, we celebrated my birthday in familiar downhill skiing atmosphere, still the spell remained.

Soon my children did not need my assistance in their school duties and then the final message received in a ski hire store happened to be prophetic – I went… everywhere

Everywhere

Ski touring in Australia and cross-country ski marathons, over 40 of them, in 17 countries.
Ski marathons, these were so called “citizen races”, that means amateurs although sometimes elite skiers joined us. In secret I will tell you that twice I beat gold Olympic medalists – they did not finish the races.

Today, when the Winter Olympic Games start in PyeangChang, I return to my winter memories. My meetings with people, old time Olympians.

Estonia.

February 1996 – Tartu (known also as Dorpat).

Tartu 1996

On the eve of the Tartu Maraton there was a big opening ceremony in the main stadium. Some official speeches and ski sprints, a show of Estonian folk dances, skiers in traditional dresses.
I could not stand long in one place, it was so cold (-28C), that every few minutes I had to run to the top of the stadium to warm up at one of large bonfires.

During one of such visits a very big man looked at me curiously
– Where from are you? – he asked recognizing from my improper clothes, that I must be a foreigner.
– Melbourne, Australia.
– Melbourne! – he shouted – are you really from Melbourne?
– Yes, certainly I am.
– Melbourne! This is most beautiful city in the world! – he exclaimed squeezing my hand.
– Have you been to Melbourne?
– Yes, yes, in 1956, at the Olympic Games.
– O, you participated in the 1956 Olympic Games?
– Yes, I played basketball.

Basketball at Melbourne Olympic Games… I retrieved my memory for a while – oh yes, Soviet Union won a silver medal.
– Yes, Soviet Union – he frowned – but I played for Estonia! For Estonia! Do you understand? – he squeezed my hand even stronger.
– Yes I understand – I answered.

I saw tears freezing on his cheeks and felt ice on my cheeks too.

Slovakia

I arrived in Stary Smokovec by bus from Zakopane. There was a long climb of many steps leading from the bus stop to the town. I bent under my heavy load and walked up slowly.

– Mister Pollack, I have an accommodation for you – some voice croaked into my ear and I felt a smell of alcohol.
I looked up. A middle aged woman stood in front of me. She repeated her offer.
I had known this place from my ski trips in old times and expected to find accommodation in the central office located in the main street.
– Thank you but I already have booked accommodation – I lied.
– And where is your accommodation Mister Polak? – the woman did not give up and blocked my way.
– I got it arranged by accommodation office – I answered and tried to force my way up.
– Mr Polak, there is no longer any accommodation office! – cried triumphantly the woman. – And I have an accommodation for you!
– Stefan! Stefan! – she shouted. Two big men arrived at the top of the stairs.
– Stefan, I have a Polak for you!

I bent my head in resignation. The only escape was to run back to the bus stop. I decided that having my throat cut will be less shameful. I went up.
– Welcome Mister Polak – greeted me Stefan.
I have to explain that he spoke Slovakian, I spoke Polish, and we understood each other perfectly. Next to Stefan, a waiter stood with a tray with glasses of Becherovka.
We drank. Stefan grabbed my ski bag.
– Why are these skis so light? – he asked.
– These are cross country skis – I replied.
– Cross country skis? – you are the first Pole who came here with cross country skis.

I got large and comfortable room. In the evening there was a knocking to my door. Stefan came carrying some bag.
– Lech, do you know such name – Sixten Jernberg? – he asked.
Sixten Jernberg! Of course! King of skis! Gold medals in Cortina, Innsbruck, Squaw Valley!
– Now I believe you are a cross country skier.

Stefan opened his bag and put on the table few bottles of Smadny Mnich.
– And do you know Lech, that I competed againts Sixten Jernberg in Innsbruck in 1964?
We both took a long sip of beer, sat comfortably and Stefan started his story…

Lech, you know how it was in communist system. They put all this rubbish into our heads.
So when I was selected to the Olympic ski team, we had these long instructions from some political officers – how bad capitalist system is, how many dangers are there. That we will be approached by some spies and provocateurs, so better not to speak to anyone. That we may be even kidnapped!
We came to Innsbruck. I was in fantastic shape. And I drew excellent start number, just three minutes before Sixten Jernberg.
– Listen Stefan – said my coach – go fast and strong. And watch Jernberg. If he will not catch you then you will get a place in the first six and maybe even a medal.
The race started. I felt so good. And my skis were waxed so well. I remembered what my coach said and went fast and strong. Distance 50 km. I passed 20 km, 30 km, 40 km and there was no sign of Jernberg. And then I heard a helicopter noise behind my back.
What was it? I remembered this stupid story that we might be kidnapped and froze.
And at that very moment Sixten Jernberg passed me. The helicopter was a TV crew covering his race.
I was so confused and frustrated that I stiffened, lost my rhythm. I finished 22nd.
And I could have finished in first six… or maybe even I could have won a medal.
– Medal, medal for sure – I confirmed eagerly.

We both took long sips of beer.

Next three days I had beautiful weather and excellent skiing. And every evening Stefan visited me and we talked about beauty of skiing.

At that time Slovakia made a bid to organize Winter Olympic Games 2006, below an occasional billboard.

Smokovec

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