For 28-year-old Janusz Sidlo, Poland's blond, beginning-to-be-portly javelin champion, last week's trip to the U.S. with the Polish track team was strictly business. Domiciled at Chicago University's Pierce Hall on the grubby South Side of the city, Sidlo (above), like the rest of the Poles, wasted no time in sightseeing, very little in social engagements.
"After," he said. "After meet, then maybe we see Washington and New York, but first come business." Business for Sidlo means throwing the javelin: he has devoted half his life to this, expects to spend at least ten more years in competition. Ostensibly there are no athletic scholarships in Poland, but Sidlo's ability to throw a javelin farther than all but one or two other men in the world has earned him three prizes: a college education at the Academy of Physical Education in Warsaw; a well-paying, undemanding job as a junior high school teacher of physical education; and a comfortable, spacious three-room apartment in Warsaw for himself, his wife and their 2-year-old daughter.
Sidlo's career as a javelin thrower began in Szopienice, a coal-mining town of some 30,000 people about 150 miles from Warsaw in Silesia. In 1948, when he was 14 years old, he attended a women's track meet with his father, who was and is a coal miner. Sitting high in the stands, he watched the javelin contest with interest.
"From so far up where I sat," he says, "the throws looked very short, and I told my father I could throw the spear that far. So after the meeting we borrowed a javelin—a woman's javelin—and sure enough, I could." Sidlo speaks some English, but for a long conversation on a variety of topics, he must have an interpreter. He is fluent in German and Russian.
July 8, 1962
He competed in the Polish equivalent of junior high school and high school and was sent to college by the government; there he got a degree in physical education. He is working now, between track meets, on a master's degree; his thesis is on the history and technique of the javelin in Poland for the last 50 years. Helping him in this project is a cadre of some 50 young javelin throwers, who conduct extensive experiments under Sidlo's direction. One of the prime objects of his visit to the U.S. is the acquisition of a Dick Held steel javelin, both for his own use and teaching. He brought with him a camera which he is going to sell for the money to pay for the javelin.
"We have only wooden javelins in Poland," he said. "When I exercise, I use two of them and throw them maybe 50 times. But I would like the American steel javelin because the wood ones break so easily."
Terry Beucher, who was on the American Olympic team and met Sidlo in Bern in 1960, offered to send him a javelin in return for the help the Polish champion had given him in correcting minor flaws in his throwing style, but Sidlo refused. "That is not the proper way to do it," he said. "I do not mind helping you if I can. I do not want to protect my secrets. Why shouldn't someone be helped? It is a traditional feeling in Poland not to guard your secrets. It is better to have fine memories than to try to be bigger than you are."
Sidlo spent a good deal of his free time working with American javelin throwers in Chicago. Karen Mendyka, one of the American women, improved her best throw of the year by seven feet under Sidlo's tutelage. She and Janusz talked in German, but Sidlo's graphic, sometimes humorous physical demonstrations were more effective than the talk.
Janusz does not approve of American training methods. "In Poland, the athlete lasts for many years," he said, seriously. "It is because we do not work at our sport all the year round. In the winter, when the snow is down, I ski and hunt, but I do not throw the javelin. In hunting, I walk many miles so that my legs benefit, as they do from the skiing. I wish that while I am here I shall have the opportunity to go to Canada for the hunting, but I do not think it is possible. Anyway, I do not begin to throw the javelin until the snow is up, so that I am, each year, fresh for it. That is why I shall continue to throw it for many years. I am only 28 and that is a young age for an athlete in my country. For me, 1964 and the Olympics in Tokyo is only tomorrow."
Much like Warsaw
The rather sketchy glimpse Sidlo has had of America on his first trip here has left him unimpressed. The shabby neighborhood around the University of Chicago, he thinks, is much like Warsaw and the food in the dining hall is like students' food everywhere.
"I am told that here you have fresh fruits and vegetables all year round because the country is so big that it is always ripe somewhere," he said. "That is nice because in Poland we have it only during the summer. But the meats and other things are just the same. One thing I like very much here are the big, beautiful automobiles and the good hard streets. We do not have so many of them at home."
He borrowed Terry Beucher's automobile for a quick 10-minute drive around the neighborhood of the university, driving very fast and with obvious relish. The Polish team was given far more freedom than the Russian team which visited the U.S. in 1959, but most of them were content to stay close to Pierce Hall. They are a friendly, happy group but they showed an odd lack of curiosity about the U.S., which most of them are visiting for the first time.
Instead, they concentrated exclusively on the business at hand, preparing for competition.
"For us, this is not the big meet," Sidlo said. "The big meet is the European Games. I feel that if we do well here, that is good because it will mean that we will do well in that meet. But we are not yet ready for strong competition, you see. That will come by September."
During the first day's events, Sidlo wandered around the infield, offering encouragement and instruction to the women javelin throwers, both Polish and American. He was surprised at the small crowd—some 13,500—that turned out; in Warsaw last year, in two days of pouring rain, 60,000 Poles filled the stadium to watch the Polish-American meet. He was surprised, too, at the vast enthusiasm the small crowd showed for the infrequent Polish victories, until he learned that it was made up almost exclusively of the large Polish population of Chicago.
The crowd was bigger but still predominantly Polish on the second day of the meet, when Sidlo competed. Looking at them, he shrugged philosophically and said, "'To me it is equal. I still have to throw and it does not matter how many watch. What matters is the nuances of the javelin. Each javelin is like a child, different and to be handled differently." He was one of the five Polish men who won here; his throw of 246 feet 10 inches was good enough to win though well below his career best of 280 feet 8½ inches. But Sidlo was satisfied. In the long view he takes of javelin throwing, he is only on the threshold of his career. He accepted his medal cheerfully enough, then went off to try to sell his camera so he could buy an American steel javelin.