Death of Stanislaw Kowalski at 111: the oldest athletics star in history, a hero in Poland

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Stanislaw Kowalski had a track career of just three years but rose to stardom in his native Poland. Picture via Facebook

Three years before Olympic legend Jesse Owens was born in Alabama, a baby arrived in Rogówek, Poland, also destined for a world record.

Unlike the hero of the 1936 Berlin Games, Stanislaw Kowalski didn’t launch his athletic career for many years – more than a century, in fact.

But between May 2014 and March 2016, his last competition date, Kowalski set world records by age group both indoors and outdoors in the 60 and 100 meters sprint and shot put.

When, at 104, he became the oldest European to register an official mark in the 100m (32.79 seconds), he said: “I feel like a new man.

Kowalski died on April 5, just nine days before his 112th birthday on Thursday, Polish media reported.

In June 2015, Kowalski became the world’s oldest track and field athlete when, at age 105, he ran the 100 in 34.50, threw the 6.6-pound throw from 4.27 meters (14 feet) ) and threw the 2.2 pound discus 7.50 meters (24-7 1/4). This necessitated the creation of a new World Masters Athletics age group: 105-109.

After Kowalski, only Japanese sprinter Hidekichi “Golden Bolt” Miyazaki and Julia “Hurricane” Hawkins of Louisiana have recorded grades after 105. (Miyazaki died in 2019; Hawkins still competes.)

The oldest former human athlete was John Whittemore of Montecito, near Santa Barbara, who competed at 104 years and 10 months, in 2004.

“Doing the 100 meters in 32.79 seconds might not worry Usain Bolt,” a Euronews narrator said in 2014. “But it earned Polish sprinter Stanislaw Kowalski a new European record in the fastest category 100 years old… His secret: Avoid stress, lots of sleep and the occasional vodka.

On Facebook, Janusz Rozum noted that Kowalski was the first athlete to set two world records in the M105 category.

“It’s a shame his other three results haven’t lived to see ratification as world records in the same age category,” he wrote, referring to the marks set inside, such as his 60-yard time of 21.20 and shot distance of 5.08. meters (16-8).

How did a retired railroad worker and foundry worker come to see YouTube and mainstream media?

“It might sound strange, but he started jogging at 104,” says Poland’s Jerzy Krauze, a former European Masters Athletics Officer who helped organize the 2019 World Indoor Masters Meet in Torun, Poland.

Krauze called Kowalski an incredible man, “very open to people, full of energy and kindness. I had the opportunity to speak to him several times about his longevity, the diet he uses and the physical activity at his age.

His “bright wit and logical expression was very efficient, in my opinion – at the level of a 70-year-old man,” his friend said on Facebook. Krauze was responsible for authenticating the official birth certificate when he set European and world records.

Besides his track honours, he was the oldest man in Polish history – the first to reach 111. On January 18, 2022, after the death of Saturnino de la Fuente García of Spain, he became the oldest man in Europe.

Kowalski has been interviewed several times by Polish media, Krauze said.

“Furthermore, Mr. Kowalski’s sportsmanship was noticed by popular American rapper, actor 50 Cent, [Curtis Jackson] who posted a photo of the 106-year-old runner on his social media profile with the note: “He is 104 years old. What’s your excuse? ” Krauze said, correcting the age.

In recent years, Kowalski has felt increasingly weak, Krauze told The San Diego Times.

“We were hoping that it would start (the World Indoor Masters Championships) 2019 in Toruń,” he said. “Unfortunately, at the last moment, he abandoned the race because he had caught a cold.”

He would have been just weeks away from turning 109.

Kowalski was born on April 14, 1910 in Końskie County, Poland, two hours south of Warsaw.

He started working at the Polish Railways in 1953 at the Regional Directorate in Wrocław as a track worker. After three years he was promoted to senior worker, and two years later he passed the brigadier’s examination.

From 1959 he worked in Brzeg Dolny until he acquired pension rights, ending his railway career at the PKP road department in Wrocław on the Wołów road section. From May 1979 he lived in Świdnica near Wrocław.

“He had never done athletics or any other sport before, and for years his only constant physical activity was cycling to work,” Krauze said on Kowalski’s 110th birthday. “He didn’t give up on two-wheelers when he retired. Already over 90 years old, he still traveled about ten kilometers each day, going to the cemetery at his late wife’s.

A Polish TV profile of Kowalski was titled “The Golden Age”.

Even at 110, he had “a lot of positive energy and a sense of humor,” Krauze said, and no major health issues. “He always tries to be physically active, doing some activity in the fresh air. The biggest obstacle to that right now is the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.”

His mother lived to be 99 and he is survived by four children, eight grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren.

Services were held on Tuesday after a mass in the church in Swidnica near Wrocław.

“Goodbye, our great and unforgettable friend,” Krauze said. “See you in the celestial stadiums.


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