For 28-year-old Janusz Sidlo, Poland's blond, beginning-to-be-portly javelin champion, last week's trip to the U.S. with the Polish track team was strictly business. Domiciled at Chicago University's Pierce Hall on the grubby South Side of the city, Sidlo (above), like the rest of the Poles, wasted no time in sightseeing, very little in social engagements.
"After," he said. "After meet, then maybe we see Washington and New York, but first come business." Business for Sidlo means throwing the javelin: he has devoted half his life to this, expects to spend at least ten more years in competition. Ostensibly there are no athletic scholarships in Poland, but Sidlo's ability to throw a javelin farther than all but one or two other men in the world has earned him three prizes: a college education at the Academy of Physical Education in Warsaw; a well-paying, undemanding job as a junior high school teacher of physical education; and a comfortable, spacious three-room apartment in Warsaw for himself, his wife and their 2-year-old daughter.
Sidlo's career as a javelin thrower began in Szopienice, a coal-mining town of some 30,000 people about 150 miles from Warsaw in Silesia. In 1948, when he was 14 years old, he attended a women's track meet with his father, who was and is a coal miner. Sitting high in the stands, he watched the javelin contest with interest.
"From so far up where I sat," he says, "the throws looked very short, and I told my father I could throw the spear that far. So after the meeting we borrowed a javelin—a woman's javelin—and sure enough, I could." Sidlo speaks some English, but for a long conversation on a variety of topics, he must have an interpreter. He is fluent in German and Russian.
He competed in the Polish equivalent of junior high school and high school and was sent to college by the government; there he got a degree in physical education. He is working now, between track meets, on a master's degree; his thesis is on the history and technique of the javelin in Poland for the last 50 years. Helping him in this project is a cadre of some 50 young javelin throwers, who conduct extensive experiments under Sidlo's direction. One of the prime objects of his visit to the U.S. is the acquisition of a Dick Held steel javelin, both for his own use and teaching. He brought with him a camera which he is going to sell for the money to pay for the javelin.
"We have only wooden javelins in Poland," he said. "When I exercise, I use two of them and throw them maybe 50 times. But I would like the American steel javelin because the wood ones break so easily."
Terry Beucher, who was on the American Olympic team and met Sidlo in Bern in 1960, offered to send him a javelin in return for the help the Polish champion had given him in correcting minor flaws in his throwing style, but Sidlo refused. "That is not the proper way to do it," he said. "I do not mind helping you if I can. I do not want to protect my secrets. Why shouldn't someone be helped? It is a traditional feeling in Poland not to guard your secrets. It is better to have fine memories than to try to be bigger than you are."
Sidlo spent a good deal of his free time working with American javelin throwers in Chicago. Karen Mendyka, one of the American women, improved her best throw of the year by seven feet under Sidlo's tutelage. She and Janusz talked in German, but Sidlo's graphic, sometimes humorous physical demonstrations were more effective than the talk.
Janusz does not approve of American training methods. "In Poland, the athlete lasts for many years," he said, seriously. "It is because we do not work at our sport all the year round. In the winter, when the snow is down, I ski and hunt, but I do not throw the javelin. In hunting, I walk many miles so that my legs benefit, as they do from the skiing. I wish that while I am here I shall have the opportunity to go to Canada for the hunting, but I do not think it is possible. Anyway, I do not begin to throw the javelin until the snow is up, so that I am, each year, fresh for it. That is why I shall continue to throw it for many years. I am only 28 and that is a young age for an athlete in my country. For me, 1964 and the Olympics in Tokyo is only tomorrow."
Much like Warsaw