Then And Now: Mariusz Podkoscielny

Photo Courtesy: Michael C. Lyn

By Seren Jones, Swimming World College Intern

Mariusz Podkoscielny is more than just a coach. To those who are fortunate to have met him or be present in his company, he is more commonly viewed as a role model.

The former Arizona Wildcat balances teaching History at the prestigious Pine Crest School, located in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and coaching the school’s renowned swim team as the assistant head coach beneath Jay Fitzgerald. Having been at the institution for a number of years, it’s been a while since the Polish coach has left the pool deck.

Mariusz Podkoscielny Pine Crest Swim Camp

Photo Courtesy: Pine Crest

Considering that he “got swimming fever a little late” and “could have had better attitude earlier,” Podkoscielny earned a lot of success throughout his career. Not only was he the Polish junior and senior national champion in the breaststroke and freestyle events, he won titles at the USA Swimming Nationals and NCAA Championships, he was a European Championship medallist, as well as an Olympic and World Championship finalist.

Podkoscielny was certainly considered one of Poland’s swimming sensations, and by only 20 years of age, he was ready to make his mark at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games in the 400 freestyle.

Olympic Debut

Mariusz California

Photo Courtesy: Mariusz Podkoscielny

“[In the prelims] I swam next to Rainer Henkel from West Germany, who was reigning world champion.” Podkoscielny admitted being “rather intimidated” by the German, whose best time was much faster than his own. “I was planning on trying to stay with him and hope that he would get me into top eight at night.”

Reaching the Olympic Games is a huge accomplishment in itself, but what the Arizona Wildcat achieved was even more impressive.

“At the 200 mark I realized that I was right with him and I felt great. I put more pressure on the opening 50 of the second 200 and took the lead. After that there was no way I was going to lose that heat. I touched the wall in 3:49.51 and I was so happy as I knew that final was guaranteed.”

Of course, the college student was ecstatic with his swim. A place in the final of the Olympic Games at 20 years old. But what he didn’t know was the best news had yet to come.

“I heard that unforgettable voice of my coach, Terry Stoddard, who somehow surfaced above the roar of the few thousand spectators in the aquatic center,” recalled Podkoscielny. “I heard him loud and clear: ‘Way to go Mariusz!’ and I threw my arms up in the air. I didn’t know that I broke the Olympic record until someone told me once I got out of the water,” he revealed. “I had no idea what the previous record was. I watched the following heats only to see that Stefan Pfeiffer, also from West Germany, had a great swim and touched the wall with 3:49.52 which was 0.01 slower than my time. I couldn’t believe that I was now an Olympic record holder and I was the top seed going into the finals.”

However, when finals came around, the Olympic record holder learned what it means to feel the pressure.

“During the warm up and before the races people were actually taking photos of me and filming me,” he said. “Behind the blocks I was getting close ups. I am sure I tried to keep it cool, but it was equally as fun as it was scary.”

“When the final came I dove into the water and quickly realized that it was going to be a battle. All the guys were within less than a second of one another. I was in the middle so I had the perfect view. I had the fastest guys next to me with Artur Wojdat, my good friend from Poland on my right and two Germans to my left. They jumped on a very fast pace. I tried to go after my second half, which I did, but the others had a lot more left for the last 100.”

Uwe Dassler claimed the title, with Duncan Armstrong snatching silver and Wojdat picking up the bronze. Podkoscielny touching fifth dropped four places, but his disappointment was short-lived, as he managed to race in both the prelims and finals, a dream come true.

“I realized I went even faster with 3:48.59. This was by far the best day of my swimming career. Before the Olympics I was dreaming of being in the finals. I did it, and for 10 hours I was an Olympic record holder.”

Although Podkoscielny was overwhelmed with his performances, nothing moved him more than his coach’s initial reaction to his prelims race.

“I remembered the moment when I heard Terry scream in the stands after I broke the Olympic record and I wanted to be able to share similar experiences with other swimmers, regardless of their level. There are few things more valuable than seeing your athlete smiling with their arms up after touching the wall, be it at the Junior Olympics or Olympics it does not matter. Sharing their moment of glory is just as special at any level.”

Painfully Positive

2015-mesa-mariusz-podkoscielny

Photo Courtesy: Taylor Brien

Thus it’s no surprise that the Pine Crest assistant coach and assistant aquatics director is such an enthusiastic and optimistic figure to his athletes.

“I am painfully positive,” he said. “I know it is a fault at times, but that’s just me. I want them to work hard. I want them to learn from their disappointments but I will never tell an athlete that they can’t do something. I will always help them stay focus on the positives of any experience.”

One of Podkoscielny’s swimmers, Lindsey Swartz, agrees that her coach has a positive mind set but doesn’t see it as a fault.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who cares as much about their students and athletes as Coach Mariusz,” said Swartz, who will be joining the Princeton Tigers this fall. “He’s so genuinely selfless and devotes all of his time and energy into our entire team. I’m so thankful for him and everything he’s done for me as a person and as an athlete. He’s definitely a role model.”

When asked if there is anything he wished he knew as a swimmer, Podkoscielny said “listen to your coach and don’t let anybody tell you that you have to do one or the other [school or swimming.] You can be great at school and swimming and still have social life. It will take some tough choices, but it can be done!”

He added, “I wish that younger swimmers would listen to their coaches and allow them to develop them into the best swimmers they can be. Swimming is a career that is not limited to one or two seasons. Too often we focus too much on NOW especially with younger swimmers.”

PC Swim Team

Photo Courtesy: Michael C. Lyn

So after all of his time in the water, what was the the most important lesson that Podkoscielny learned from swimming?

“Without a doubt, that you have to work hard to truly appreciate the award. I like getting things handed to me, which rarely happens, but I am never as happy with it as I am when I earn something. The value of success is in a journey and success is not measured by what others say but by what YOU believe.”

2 Comments

2 comments

  1. avatar
    Jim Lutz

    I remember a set Mariusz had done at UA. The women’s team was in Seattle for Pac-10’s and I was back coaching the men’s team (suits on head was not part of the training that day). The D-group did 3 x 1000 descend on 11:00 with full gear (paddles, bouy and a tube around the ankles. Mariusz went 9:45, 9:24, 8:54 (split 4:28/4:28) I stood above the lane the entire set and timed it on my watch. there were other All-Americans in the pool who got lapped on this set. Great swimmer and an even better person.

    • avatar
      Mariusz

      Remember the set Jim, hard to believe it was so long ago. Thanks for memories!!!

Author: Seren Jones

avatar
Seren Jones is a senior butterfly/backstroker from Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom. The Metropolitan Conference individual champion grew up swimming for The City of Cardiff Swimming Club, and qualified for the Great Britain Olympic Trials in 2012.

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