Reigning European indoor 1500m champion Marcin Lewandowski from Poland joined us on Instagram Live on Wednesday (6) evening as part of our #AtHomeWith series which is presented by Great Britain's 2016 European long jump silver medallist Jazmin Sawyers.
In an extensive and in-depth interview, Lewandowski talked about being coached by his brother Tomasz, running the perfect race to win a bronze medal in the 1500m at the World Championships and his rivalry on the European stage with Norway's Jakob Ingebrigtsen.
How are you in Poland and how are you coping with the global situation?
It’s like everywhere else right now - everything is closed. Two weeks ago, I couldn’t even train in the forest as it was closed. There was no chance to go out to train so that’s why I was training on the treadmill a little bit and I improvised a lot but everyone is in the same situation right now so I am doing my best.
I’m back to the winter time right now with my training and I’m doing a lot of endurance runs because there is no goal for this season. I still believe we will have a few races in late August and September so that’s why I keep the training - I’m doing big mileage but I have decided to rest a little bit. I can decide on the breaks between training and if I want to go with my family to the ocean, I can do that.
I’m still in hard training but I’m the coach for the moment!
How did you respond to the announcement Tokyo 2020 was postponed?
I’m a very positive person. It’s a hard situation of course but I was believing they would keep it - I didn’t believe they could postpone but it’s a good decision because health is the most important for us. Until the last minute, I was saying ‘there is a long time [until Tokyo], everything will be fine.’
Last year was great for me and I was really focused on my new event. It would be perfect if they were this year - I’m 33 this year but I am feeling great, I don’t have any injuries, I can wake up early in the morning and I can still do strides - there is no problem with my body so maybe it will be even better in 2021? One more year to get more experience and more training for my new event.
And on the road to Tokyo, you have the European Indoor Championships in Torun. This must be a huge motivation as well!
Honestly, the European Indoor Championships in Torun is the thing which keeps me on a high level. With no Olympics or European Championships, it was really hard to focus on training but the European Indoor Championships keeps me training hard and I really want to focus on that.
This will be the first championship since Doha so I’m going to defend my title - it would be my fourth time in a row so it could be a great way to maybe finish my indoor career so of course I’m very excited for that.
I have a small surprise for you guys about the European Indoor Championships - I can’t say about it right now but it will be a really great surprise for everyone!
Have you given any thought about what you would like to do after 2021?
I’m not going to finish my career in 2021 - I’m going to train in a different way. So far I’m spending 300 days a year out of home at altitude camps, at competitions and so on. It’s really a lot and I have two girls - four and six - so it’s not easy for them, it’s not easy for myself.
I will train hard but I will spend more time at home. It will be more like Nick Willis - he trained at home all the time but he still got a medal in Rio so why not me? Maybe I will not train for the next Olympics after Tokyo but 2021 and 2022 will be good. I’m like wine. The older I am, the better!
We saw on social media that you have recently released a book! Could you tell us about that?
It’s on my desk! It’s my new book - there is only a Polish version but give me a few months and there will be an English version. It’s called ‘My Race’ - it’s not really about my private life or my family, it’s not really a biography.
What I want to say about my book, there are many great adventures from track and field. I first thought about it four years ago and the biggest reason is I wanted to leave something after my career. I got the gold medals and records but someone can take it so that’s why I decided to write the book to leave something after my career.
Over the last three years, I was thinking what will be inside the book and after a long run and training, I would write some notes. It’s not about the crazy parties or anything - it’s about my track and field life.
How does the dynamics of being coached by your brother Tomasz work? Is it easy or difficult to separate the two roles?
At training, he is just my coach - he is not my brother. If you want to train with someone, you need a big respect for your coach - if he will be your brother you can say ‘I’m tired, I’m not going to train.’
I have big respect for Tomasz and he is mostly my coach - he was my coach from the beginning when I was 14. It was maybe a bit easier to do this business - when I was seven or eight years old, he left home to study so from the beginning, I maybe saw him once a month so we never had this really big brother-brother relationship. That’s why it’s much easier to do this Lewandowski thing - I’m always listening with him, I’m never fighting with him. I do my job and he does his.
Tomasz has said his aim is to make you “a good athlete as well as a good person.” How important is this philosophy?
It was his philosophy from the beginning when I was 14 when I started running. That was his goal. The first thing was to be a good human being and if I was lucky enough - maybe I would be a good athlete as well. He always focused on that.
We spend 300 days a year together all the time so he’s more like my father than brother. I was growing up and I had a crazy time as every teenager and I wanted blonde or green hair or an earring and he was the man who said ‘no, no, no you have sponsors, you have to be a good man, you have to look good.’
Maybe then I wasn’t really happy about that but at the end, the athlete and the person I am now - a lot of it is because of him.
You have run either 1:43 or 1:44 for eleven successive seasons in the 800m which is incredible. What do you credit for this consistency?
It’s impressive even for myself! I’m so happy because of that. I don’t know how to explain that but Tomasz is a smart guy and I guess this is the key to my success over the years.
It's smart training. Kenyans say ‘train hard, win easy,’ Europeans say ‘train smart, not hard,’ Lewandowski said ‘train hard and smart!’ I connect both schools of training. I believe this is key - train smart and hard!
In recent years you have moved up to the 1500m. What would you say are the main differences between both in big events?
I’ve already had a nice career in both and I guess I can say a little bit more about that. Honestly, the 1500m is much harder - if I had the chance to choose my event, I would take the 800m all the time because it’s not that hard! It’s hard as well but the pain is only in the last 200 metres when it hurts you really a lot. In the 1500m, it’s the last 500 metres and sometimes after 800 metres I’m already dying and thinking what should I do? Should I finish? All these thoughts.
That was my future from the beginning - when I focused on the 800m, I knew the 1500m was going to be my future. It was just a matter of time before I moved to the 1500m. I wanted to continue with the 800m a little bit - I have made five or six world or Olympic finals but I never took a medal, three times I was fourth. That was the reason why I was continuing with the 800m as I was waiting for the right moment.
When I was 31, I thought it was now time for me and it was a great decision to move to the 1500m. I still did 1:43 last year but now I can finally say I am a 1500m guy, not an 800m guy.
You have had some great races at European events against Jakob Ingebrigtsen. Can you talk about your rivalry with him?
I can’t say I’m not counting Berlin because I am but it’s a little bit different because that year I did only one 1500m race before Berlin because of an injury and all through June I didn’t even do one kilometre because of my calf so that’s why I needed to spend so much time in training
Then I went to Berlin, I felt great but you can never be sure what was going to happen. It was my first race in two months and I was not sure how it was going to be. I just want to get a medal, I have a big kick and that was my tactic. It was not maybe so good but between me and Jakob, I did the last lap one-and-a-half seconds faster but I was like 10 or 20 metres behind him in the last 300 metres but it was a great lesson for me.
Glasgow was a totally different thing though. I was going there to defend my title; I was sure about that. I’m like an old fox - Jakob’s like a young wolf. I was ready, I knew I was the fastest guy and I was ready for 3:35 even so I was not really afraid. I just did my job and I did the best I could.
And the following year you won a bronze in the 1500m in Doha on your sixth attempt. Would you say you have learned something new from each championships?
Every time I learned something new. Before I was fourth three times and I always missed a medal by a few hundredths - just stupid mistakes on the track. I’m not Rudisha - he can make a mistake and still win it. I could have taken a medal but I needed a perfect race - one small, single mistake could cost me a medal and this happened in a few championships.
Doha was a perfect race - every 100m split was perfect - I didn’t push too much, it was a perfect race and I didn’t add any extra metres on the curve, I was always close to the bend. I was waiting for that for so many years - my huge experience in the 800m and 1500m gave me a medal and I believe this is only just the beginning.
You turn 33 next month. Would Marcin Lewandowski at 20 years old be surprised by the person and the athlete he has become?
I believed in myself from the beginning. I actually believed in myself more at 20! I believed I could move the mountains and that was my great weapon and I believe it’s working the same for Jakob - there is no limit for him and there was none for me - I heard the gun and I just ran. Maybe too often I went too fast but I wasn’t afraid of anything.
When I was 20, I believed I could be a great athlete, one of the best athletes in the world but it’s because of very hard work: sacrifices, no parties at all or holidays in August. I was always working so hard in Flagstaff or St. Moritz, that was my holiday, puking twice a week because of the hard training on the track!
What is it like to be part of such a successful Polish team?
There are more people like me - Malachowski, Majewski, Wlodarczyk, Kszczot and many others - young athletes, we inspire them. I’m one of the reasons why track and field in Poland is so strong right. Young people are thinking: if Lewandowski can do that and take medals, why not me? We can win against the best Europeans, Kenyans and Ethiopians.
I’m one of the reasons there is a golden age in Poland and last year I was the captain of the Poland team which is also great so I was staying in touch with young athletes; if they have any questions I was of course helping them with that. I’m inspiring young athletes and I’m very happy because of that
I believe it will get better and better every year and I’m glad I’m part of this great team right now.
What do your daughters think of your running? Do they like to watch you?
Of course they love it! They hate it when I go to a training camp and they cry but the moment when they watch me compete, my wife sometimes makes a short video when I’m racing and my girls are running with me in the front room! They love it.
But the way they are running - they are not training properly, they do whatever they want - but the way they run is completely different to other six year old girls. They have it in the blood already.
A few months ago in a ‘normal life’ they went for a school competition. At the beginning they said they didn’t want to race and they wore winter jackets and big shoes but then they decided to race and they won both which is insane! I could understand one of them winning but two - that is crazy!
They were also in Berlin when I won silver, it was 200 kilometres from my hometown and I took my small daughter around my neck. They help me a lot and they are my motivation of course.