18 February 2009 was the day Kamila Skolimowska passed away. She was a hammer thrower, Poland's youngest ever Olympic champion, but most of all, a loving daughter and a caring friend. Although Kama is no longer with us, her memory will live on.
If Kamila Skolimowska were alive, she would now be 40 years old. But she is not. Her heart stopped beating on 18 February 2009, during a training camp in Portugal. Other hearts stopped on that day as well – but those who loved her had to dry their tears and put their lives back together. It was not always easy and time does not always heal wounds. It is the same story every morning: the police officer no longer on duty, the hammer thrower no longer in action. Kamila no longer gives out life advice or spends long evenings with her loved ones. The daughter no longer travels, the girlfriend does not call, the friend does not advise. All she does is look from above at what was left after her passing.
The task those down below were charged with was to ensure a lot is left. The Olympic title, two European Championships medals and three age-group titles are just a part of the story.
Kamila always said: Mom, you need to stay healthy to help me with my children
– It has been 14 years since Kamila left us. A lot if time, if you think about it, and yet it feels like I only just caught her eating apples in her sleep in Stuttgart. I clearly remember her saying after waking up that there was nothing strange about that, since she was hungry. There were also our chats in the Olympic village in Beijing. It feels like yesterday. I could still quote all of them, every single sentence. After I won silver there, we sat together on a curb and she warned me that my life would never be the same again. She said I needed to be careful to keep my sanity. She was just 25 at the time, but sounded like a life mentor, one that you believed and trusted – Piotr Małachowski reminisced.
Neither of them would have expected it at the time, but the biggest life change for the discus specialist after his retirement was becoming the sports director of the memorial dedicated to her.
The advice given by Skolimowska to Małachowski in China at the outset of his fame was more than just empty words.
– Apart from the fact the whole country knew her, her life after the gold in Sydney stayed the same. Or, to put it differently, she remained the same person. She stayed grounded, she wanted to get a Ph.D. She had a plan for a second life. She did not make it – those are the words of Teresa Skolimowska, Kamila's mother. Even after all these years, her voice sometimes breaks. She agrees that Kamila's career was the opposite of the typical scenario – one in which the greatest success came right at the beginning and the remaining years were spent chasing her own legend. - She started out at the age of 13. And she took the world by storm soon after. The media made a big deal out of her and that was to be expected. After all, our country never had an Olympic champion as young as her. However, all the fuss stayed outside of our home. Behind closed doors she was still our baby. She wanted to buy a piece of land. She told me not to lose my health too early, as I was supposed to be a grandmother and help her with raising her kids.
Teresa and Roebrt Skolimowski remember it all: her first trainings, first medals, the Olympic nomination, the glory. But also all the losses – the moments that enrich one as a person.
– The time does not cloud the memories – stated Kamila's father. He is the chairman of the Kamila Skolimowska Foundation, the institution that has organised the competition dedicated to her memory since 2009. Ever since the meeting entered Poland's largest stadiums, one of the sectors has always been taken by a picture of the athlete. - She is laughing so beatifully in that photo. Both me and my husband love that picture, she is looking in every direction. We will never stop thinking about the loss. But we will also never stop being parents, if we cannot physically hug our child, we can at least keep her in our thoughts.
Temperament and humour. Małachowski: a goldmine of anecdotes
Tomasz Majewski, the current vice-president of the Polish Atletic Association, surpassed Skolimowska in sporting terms. Małachowski, like his colleague, won two Olympic medals, although hsi favourite colour was silver. Both, however, state these comparisons are of no importance. They might be if they could get together, as they did back in the day, and tease each other.
– She had a great sense of humour and she did not take herself too seriously – the shot putter said. Małachowski brings up multiple anecdotes. One of them was a story featuring an adult shop that she told them years ago in an airport. - We sat together at a gate before taking a flight to Warsaw and as usual we talked about life. Of all sorts of little things. There were many Poles around, so we kept our voices low, when suddenly Kama said, out of the blue: „You know, I once went into a sex shop out of curiousity. It was supposed to be a joke, but the shop assistant was so eager to make a sale that I came out with an outfit. It turned out they have large sizes as well!” We listened to the story while looking at the neighbouring tables and the people opening their eyes wide after recognising the Olympic champion – said Małachowski with a laugh. He is quick to add: - That situation was absurd, but it was within a circle of good friends. To the outside world, she never lacked good manners. She always knew how to behave. And she was a great diplomat.
– She had temperament – Majewski confirmed. - That is true of all athletes, who work hard to mae a name for themselves day after day. But I remember Kama as a person with whom you could relax. You would receive nothing but warmth from her.
In a perfect world, there would be no roundabout, memorial or stadium
All that can be done now is to give the warmth back to Kama. That is exactly what people do – there are always candles burning on her grave. The inscription on the gravestone says „we leave when we cannot become better”. The words were reportedly spoken by the then minister of sports during a final farewell. The story may be true. On the other hand, for all her loved ones it would be enough for Skolimowska to stay as she was, as long as she remained among them.
– Do you ever wonder what the world would be like today if she was still here? - was the question we asked her parents.
– She would still be a police officer! - the father exclaimed. His wife added that their little world would simply be better. - There would be no roundabout named after her, or a stadium. There would be no memorial dedicated to her, perhaps only a regular meeting where she would be involved with organisation. We would be grandparents – said the mother. Małachowski opined that with her open mind and patience she would have made a great coach. - The champions of her caliber have an incredible feel for their own bodies and an insight into the technique of others. She had one more thing: forebearance. I can only imagine how much kids would look up to someone like her, dreaming of having the national anthem played for them one day. And even if she did not want to coach, every TV station would do anything to have her on their teams at major events – he stated with a wink.
Kama will forever remain on the startlist
The only way in which Kama can now be shown on TV is, unfortunately, in the context of the Memorial. Those close to her always agreed that the best way of celebrating her memory would be a meeting dedicated to her. After her passing, the family and friends organised the first edition in just a few weeks. Everything worked automatically. Everything worked out as expected.
– It was as if she led us by the hand – the father stated multiple times. - It is all thanks to Marcin. It it were not for him, we would have none of what we have now: the thousands of fans in the stadium, the picture in the stands, the stars. No Diamond League, either – the mother added.
Thankfully, Polish hammer throwing is still in excellent shape. Since Kamila's passing, major championship medals have been won by Anita Włodarczyk, Szymon Ziółkowski, Joanna Fiodorow, Paweł Fajdek, Malwina Kopron and Wojciech Nowicki. Many of them state after medal ceremonies that their successes are dedicated to Kamila or were achieved, in a way, thanks to her. But even if one day things change and the Polish successors are no longer as successful, the hammer throw will always remain a part of the Silesia Kamila Skolimowska Memorial – promised sports director Małachowski. - That is because in our hearts Kamila will always be a part of the startlist. She died and we cannot undo that. But the memories will live on forever.
The 14th Silesia Kamila Skolimowska Memorial, a Diamond League meeting, will take place in the Silesian Stadium on 16 July 2023. As ever, with one of the sectors covered in a picture of the champion, The most beautiful one.