“I woke up and I said to myself, ‘we really had great athletes, great middle-distance runners in (Polish) history, and I’m going to be one of them’. It was 2012.”
Since this revelation six years ago, 800m runner Adam Kszczot, has gone on to become a three-time European champion and double world silver medalist, who has stood on each step of the podium at the World Indoor Championships.
The 29-year-old, who is always a fierce competitor on the track, describes his initial story as “awkward” in the IAAF Diamond League podcast.
“I never thought I was going to be an athlete. When I managed to be the bronze medal guy at the 2007 European Junior Championships, it was the first time I’d thought about athletics seriously.”
Fast forward five years and the man with steely blue eyes is competing in his nation’s red and white on the biggest stage of all. In some ways the Olympic Games in London ended up being a “bad experience” for Kszczot, but it culminated in a life-changing moment. “I was actually out of the competition in the semi-finals. Twelfth.
“The most funny part of this situation was when I was back home, earlier than the whole national team. I met a guy, a taxi driver and he asked “oh, you’ve been at the Olympic Games, what did you do there?”
“I’m an 800m runner, but I finished twelfth and I’m out of the final”, Adam answered honestly, perhaps not expecting the what would arrive in response.
“Oh, we always had good 800m runners” barked back the driver. “I started to argue with him, what do you define as good? I was really upset!”
But ultimately, the taxi man’s hurtful quip on return from London lit a fire in Kszczot, who decided he wanted to join those before him and become one of the Polish greats.
“I proved that I’m one of the best middle-distance runners in the world and probably this guy still thinks about this situation.”
You can’t argue with what he’s done, reaching the top of the World Indoor Championships rostrum at the third attempt, and sealing an impressive hat-trick of European titles in 2018 alone.
Today, Poland’s middle-distance runners remain a force to be reckoned with. Kszczot’s compatriots Marcin Lewandowski and Sofia Ennaoui were 1500m runners-up at the Europeans in 2018. Justina Swiety-Ersetic also won gold over 400m and helped her country win the 4x400m relay over which her male team-mates shocked the United States to win the World Indoors in Birmingham in March.
Adam believes confidence is glowing through the squad. “Generally, the national team is well recognised in the streets. We have a little secret about athletics, we do the same workouts as half of the world…but we made some improvements with science like how to measure blood markers…when to push a little bit harder…how to prepare for the season.
“This helps us to be on the top and hopefully the youngsters who are coming every year will stay with us for a long while and they are going to amaze not only Poland, but Europe and the world.”
As you can tell, the runner based in Łódź has some great stories to share with those less experienced than him. As he exudes knowledge in his answers, you also get the sense that he’s an intelligent guy who might seek mental insight for performance advantages.
“My mother was a maths teacher, so I was always focused on studying. I picked the technical university…and it was a moment when I didn’t treat athletics as something I was going to stick with for a longer while. I was the national champion (but) the studying was the most important part of my life. Athletics was something I do just for fun…to be a better person.”
Kszczot goes on to explain how his sport has taught him how to maximise other parts of his life. “I learnt how to focus on my aims or my goals. ‘I’m preparing for August but it’s October’. How not to lose the goal. Athletics teaches us how to push, how to go straight to your goal, this is what you aim for…how to finish this crazy path…and how to be the best.
Looking at his medal record suggests he’s good at getting himself ready nine or more months in advance. He’s a competitor with an excellent ability to peak at major championships, yet a rare breed, who doesn’t seem to shy away from the sharp end at other times of the year. So, what’s his secret to staying focused while not burning out?
“Mental preparation is as valuable as physical preparation, with this little difference: the physical preparation is made somewhere else in sport camps or at home, but you can’t meet the best runners at the same time, the same place while preparing.
“So you have to go for the Diamond League…for the World Challenge…all the best meetings where you can meet your biggest opponents just to get used to it mentally.”
Now the dynamic part of his approach, understanding that the best laid plans can be rudely interrupted by circumstances outside of your control. Injuries, weather, travel delays and other life events. After all, Adam has recently become a father, that must’ve made a difference to the time he can commit to training. “In a decade, it’s changed a lot. Values of my life change.
“Sometimes, in between races, life changes a little bit and it changes the way you have to think before the race to be motivated, to go on the top mentally. If you’re not on the top mentally, you can’t push your body out of the limits.
“It’s my new role in life, being a dad and it’s something huge. you can’t describe that in words.”
Right now athletics is the most important part until the Olympics. For sure at some point i have to prepare better for life after athletics and ‘m still trying to be in touch with the world surrounding me!”