Feature30 Aug 2022

After five world title wins, Fajdek is focused on making more hammer history


Poland's Pawel Fajdek competes in the hammer final at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 (© Getty Images)

It’s a measure of Pawel Fajdek’s attitude, and his ambition, that when you ask the 33-year-old Pole how many world titles he thinks he can win, he doesn’t just look to next year and the chance to equal the all-time record in an individual event, but onwards to the World Athletics Championships Tokyo 25. 

“I want seven,” he says. “I will be trying to do this. It’s not that long to next year and Budapest, then we have the Olympics, and then Tokyo. I can be the first man to take seven gold medals in a row – I’ll be focused on that.”

The current record in an individual event is six, held by Sergey Bubka, but at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22, Fajdek drew closer to the pole vault legend, winning his fifth consecutive world title in the hammer. From Moscow to Beijing to London, from Doha to Eugene, Fajdek has been indomitable at the World Championships for the past decade.

Poland's Pawel Fajdek reacts to his throw at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22

Poland's Pawel Fajdek reacts to his throw at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 (© AFP / Getty Images)

For an athlete so accomplished, it seems an anomaly that he has yet to win an Olympic title, and after underperforming at both the London and Rio Olympics – knocked out in qualifying at both – Fajdek finally won his first Olympic medal last year, at the age of 32, taking bronze in Tokyo.

Given his prior dominance, did that loss trigger his motivation for 2022? 

“I’m always motivated,” he laughs. “We are not the football players, we have to improve every year to earn money and that’s also the reason I’m still motivated. I have a daughter, so I have to plan her future, and mine also.”

Fajdek’s daughter, Laila, is seven, and she has already developed a good understanding of her father’s achievements, and why at certain times of the year he needs to be away from home for long stretches. “She misses me all the time, she’s crying too much,” he says. “I miss her too and it’s hard when you have to fly to different countries or continents, but she’s strong, also supporting me.”

On 15 July, the opening morning of the World Championships in Oregon, Laila was watching from the family home near Warsaw as her dad launched an 80.09m effort to advance to the following day’s final. “She was happy she saw me on TV, she always crosses her fingers for me,” says Fajdek. 

Going into the final, Fajdek was in an unusual position of being the underdog. He and his compatriot Wojciech Nowicki had clashed many times over the years, with Fajdek currently leading the tally 87-28. But in recent years the trend was changing, with Nowicki winning Olympic gold in Tokyo, throwing 82.52m to Fajdek’s 81.53m. 

Poland's Pawel Fajdek and Wojciech Nowicki at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22

Poland's Pawel Fajdek and Wojciech Nowicki at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 (© AFP / Getty Images)

In 2022, Nowicki continued to have the upper hand, winning five of their seven clashes before they renewed that rivalry in Oregon. It had been a difficult season for Fajdek. “The hardest moment was April, May,” he says. “I was throwing very nice in March and then something happened. I was too strong, I lost my technique and I had to spend a lot of weeks with the hammer to take it back.”

In his coach, Szymon Ziolkowski, Fajdek had a mentor who knew exactly what he was dealing with. Ziolkowski was the Olympic champion in the hammer at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and continued competing at a world-class level until 2014, when he was 38. 

“He was in the same place, like me, and he knows how to train at that age – what we have to do, what we shouldn’t do,” says Fajdek. “I trust him. He trusts me. We’re a great team.”

This is their second year working together and Fajdek says “nothing special changed” in training this year, but now that he’s advancing into his 30s he has to be a little smarter. “I’m older so I have to rest more,” he says. “But I’m still in good shape.”

With the men’s hammer final taking place at midday in Oregon, it was a convenient time for many Poles to tune in back home, waiting to see which of their hammer greats would reign supreme. Fajdek felt the weight of expectation – not that that was a bad thing. 

“You always feel stressed but it was a good stress,” he says. “I was focused on the warm-up and felt a little nervous but after the first throw, it was only 74, I knew I could throw far. I had good feelings with the hammer.”

He channeled those feelings into his second effort, 80.58m, which moved him up to second behind Norway’s Eivind Henriksen, who had edged Fajdek to silver in last year’s Olympic final. In the third round, Fajdek launched an 81.98m throw, which at the time was a world lead by a whopping 86cm. 

Mission accomplished. As Fajdek put it: “No one could catch me this time.”

Poland's Pawel Fajdek kisses the throwing circle after winning his fifth world hammer title in Oregon

Poland's Pawel Fajdek kisses the throwing circle after winning his fifth world hammer title in Oregon (© AFP / Getty Images)

He took a week off after that victory before resuming training for the European Championships in Munich, his preparations interrupted due to an airline losing his gear and much of his training equipment when on the journey home from Oregon. 

Fajdek breezed through qualification in Munich with the leading mark, 79.76m, but in the final the following night he was off his best. He threw 79.15m to finish fourth, with Nowicki bettering Fajdek’s world lead to win gold with 82.00m. Afterwards Fajdek pointed to a delay in the programme due to a thunderstorm as a reason for his slightly sub-par effort, but he reminded those watching he had won the title he wanted most this year. 

All in all, he had to be happy with the season, especially given the difficulties that preceded it. 

“Last year I had a little problem with my body, it was hard after three, four years with a back problem, knee problem,” he says. “But now finally I feel healthy and I can train.”

The medal in Tokyo last year brought financial support from the Polish government, which is allowing Fajdek to “only focus on myself and throwing” for the years to come. “The medal (made) me more comfy in my life,” he says. 

Still, he’s just as motivated as ever, with his Polish record of 83.93m, set in 2015, one of his next targets. “I hope I can throw around that or even farther,” he says.

He’ll be 34 in Budapest next year, 35 for Paris in 2024 and 36 for Tokyo in 2025. There may be many rivers to cross before he would have a chance to win a seventh world title in a single event, but the idea of doing so – and going where no athlete has ever been – is something that’s already in his sights. 

Cathal Dennehy for World Athletics

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