Artur Partyka at the 1996 Olympic Games (© Getty Images / AFP)
In the latest in our series of top athletes sharing their World Junior memories, we chat to Polish high jump star Artur Partyka, who reminisces about his experiences of competing in the 1988 edition of the IAAF World U20 Championships in Sudbury, Canada.
Artur Partyka went into the 1988 IAAF World Junior Championships in Sudbury brim full of confidence. Aged just 16 he had also competed at the inaugural World Junior Championships in Athens and although he failed to advance beyond qualification round, the experience “made him stronger.”
The following year he struck gold with a leap of 2.19m at the European Junior Championships. “This victory gave me the confidence and belief that I can beat the best,” said Partyka.
Leading into Sudbury, his form continued to blossom. He led the world junior rankings with 2.28m and was all set to strike for gold. “I was consistently over 2.20m and this showed I was in a good and stable shape,” he added.
For the teenage Partyka it was his first experience outside of Europe and he had had an instant “fascination for Canada”. He described the organisation of the event as “perfect” and he developed a special attachment with the Polish expatriate community living in Sudbury.
“We felt their presence and support not only during the competition,” he recalled.
Partyka also recalls being part of a special Polish team in Canada. He spent a lot of time with his fellow Polish high jumper, Jaroslaw Kotewicz, who went on to get the bronze medal. The team got five medals in total and Partyka also developed a close friendship with Tomasz Jedrusik, who struck 400m gold in Canada.
Yet one everlasting memory he recalled was that three of his team mates opted not to return to Poland, preferring instead to start a new life in Canada.
“It was a difficult time for our country,” he reflected. “It was towards the end of communism and very difficult from an economical point of view. They (the three athletes) hoped that life in Canada would be better than in Poland. I had very strong emotions when I saw them for the last time. It was an extremely difficult and brave decision, but time has shown that this decision was the right one for all of them. Occasionally, from time to time, one of them calls me and the memories come back.”
After cruising through the qualifiers, clearing the automatic qualification height of 2.14m, the final – held at the Laurentian University Stadium in warm temperatures of between 26-28 degrees Celsius – could not have gone more smoothly for the beanpole Partyka.
He cleared every height at the first attempt up to and including 2.28m and although he felt “some pressure” from the Greek Lambros Papakostas he had too much quality for the opposition.
“Of course, I felt some stress, but I felt it more during the qualification than in the final. As we all know the pressure is greater during qualifying than for the final. The only problem I had came at 2.30m, but it was probably more due to the excitement because I was sure Lambros could not handle the height.”
Partyka was correct in his assumption and by matching his best of 2.28m, he finished three centimetres clear of Papakostas, who took the silver. His colleague Kotewicz made it a memorable competition for Poland by taking a share of the bronze medal with 2.22m, alongside Park Jae-Hong of South Korea.
Committed to a strict diet before the competition after his gold medal success, Partyka could relax a little.
“As is usual the celebration started with a rich and calorie-heavy meal,” he adds. “We later went out to the disco and enjoyed a little party with the local Polish community in Sudbury.”
His success in Sudbury helped unlock the key for the next stage of his career. Just two months later he made his Olympic debut, yet his experiences in Sudbury proved invaluable.
“I learned a lot of experience from my two world junior championships,” he explains. “They gave me the confidence and helped me become a more mature athlete. I often reflect on the memories of these competitions, the people, stadium and atmosphere.”
Advice for the next generation
“My advice would be to observe, make a lot of notes, and be focused on the task,” said Partyka, thinking about all those competitors who will be travelling to his home country next month for the IAAF World U20 Championships Bydgoszcz 2016.
“Away from the track, I advise all the competitors to see the city of Bydgoszcz as a tourist. It is a beautiful place and has a lot to offer. For all competitors, I wish them a successful performance. Let Bydgoszcz be the beginning of your road to success in senior sport.
Artur Partyka went on to enjoy an outstanding senior career throughout the 1990s. He earned Olympic medals at two successive Games, finishing equal third in Barcelona in 1992 before four years later taking the silver medal behind USA’s Charles Austin in Atlanta.
He also won three IAAF World Championship medals with silvers in 1993 and 1997 and a bronze in 1995 and a world Indoor championships silver medal in 1991.
He was crowned European outdoor champion in 1998 and secured a brace of European Indoor gold medals in 1990 and 1998. He still owns the Polish record with his 2.38m clearance in Eberstadt in 1996.