Władysław Kozakiewicz - a pole vault away from Poland to Germany

Władysław Kozakiewicz and the "Kozakiewicz Gesture", Moscow 1980
Władysław Kozakiewicz and the "Kozakiewicz Gesture", Moscow 1980

By the late 70s it was clear that Russians were no longer particularly liked in Poland. The reverse was also probably true. Władysław Kozakiewicz felt this in person as he ran up to take his jump at the 1980 games. At each attempt he could hear the whistles coming from the stands: even when he had left his competitors far behind him and, as the only athlete left in the competition, was attempting to set a new world record for the pole vault. After he had cleared the bar with a new world record of 5.72 metres, Kozakiewicz leapt to his feet in joy, turned to the spectators, placed his left hand on his right arm, and made a fist as he raised his arm. Now as then this was a clear message: lick my a…!”. 

The Polish athlete’s gesture was like a smack in the face to Soviet sport officials and party comrades The Polish ambassador in Moscow was summoned to answer to the affronted Russians and Kozakiewicz was forced to explain his action. In order to protect himself and his trainer he said that he always made such a gesture when he set a new world record. The laconic excuse worked. 

But back in Poland in 1980 his gesture was seen as a courageous rejection of Big Brother in the East. In Polish culture the so-called “Kozakiewicz Gesture” / “Gest Kozakiewicza” still works a symbol of resistance. After the scandal in Moscow Władysław Kozakiewicz was no longer a welcome figure for sporting officials loyal to the Party. As a result he was continually the victim of arbitrary chicanery. When he was banned from taking part in sporting events abroad in 1985 he travelled of his own accord to a tournament in Germany, never to return. He was given German citizenship and even appeared in a few tournaments for the German athletics team. From 1986 to 1988 he was German pole vault champion. Today Władysław Kozakiewicz works as a sport teacher in a school near Hannover.

Adam Gusowski, January 2014

Media library
  • Goldener Sprung in Moskau 1980

    Kozakiewiczs goldener Sprung bei den Olympischen Spielen in Moskau 1980.
  • Wladyslaw Kozakiewicz reads from his biography

    Berlin, November 2013
  • Interview Władysław Kozakiewicz

    German only
  • Wladyslaw Kozakiewicz - Radio play by "COSMO Radio po polsku" in English

    In cooperation with "COSMO Radio po polsku" we present radio plays on selected topics of our portal.