USA VS POLAND DUAL MEET- Warsaw
July 29-30, 1961 Stadium Dzesieciolecia
In July of 1961 at age 19 at the USA Women’s National Track and Field Championships Karen Mendyka from Los Angeles qualified for the USA Men and Women’s traveling Track and Field team to represent the USA in dual track meets against Russia, Germany, England and POLAND. It was a great honor to represent the USA overseas and the 6 years of hard, daily workouts had paid off.
My event was the JAVELIN which I started throwing at a young age and was coached by my mother Edith Reichardt Mendyka a formidable athlete in her native Germany in Field (Team)Handball (7 times German Field Handball Champion with her Berlin sports club SCC) and 1936 Olympian). Mom also threw the javelin. My father John Koczorowski Mendyka was a famed rugby player in Germany and played on the National Team. He also was a hurdler and hammer thrower. John came to America in 1929 and continued to participate in sports and always encouraged me.
When Mom came to the USA in 1941 she was disappointed at how little there was in the way of sport for women, so she formed a Field Handball team and also a Track Club. (Enter Christel Donnelly) Yes, Christel and I go way back. Mom helped to start the Masters Track program in California and was a Master athlete all her life winning many National Titles and some World titles too. Mom competed in 100m, 200m, Shot Put, Discus, Javelin, High Jump, Long Jump and Triple Jump.
In competing against the USSR and Poland we were venturing into uncharted territory as the athletic exchanges behind the Iron Curtain were quite new. In meetings with coaches and government officials we were given strict orders as to what we could wear, where we could go, not to chew gum in public and even what books we were allowed to bring into that country. Being young and thinking some of the rules were silly, we ventured forth anyway. In the USSR a group of us led by 400 meter runner Ulis Williams ventured out to see where we could go unchaperoned on the Moscow subways. Ulis said he could get anywhere on the New York subway, so he certainly could negotiate Moscow. The subway had white tiles and was clean and beautiful. Every rider on the subway stared at us as if we were aliens and so we were. In Moscow, I conveniently left behind the book I had chosen to bring – ( the forbidden book “Doctor Zhivago”). We were a young team! Much younger than the athletes we were competing against.
It was my privilege to compete USA vs. Poland in Warsaw, Poland at Stadion Dzesieciolecia July 29-30, 1961 against Teresa Tubek (148’73/4”) who won, and Lucyna Krawcewicz (145’ 71/4 “) 2nd, and myself Karen Mendyka at 143’ 61/4” in 3rd place and 4th place was Fran Davenport – USA 127’41/4”. These marks might not seem like much, but considering we threw in the pouring rain and the grass runway was flooded, it was amazing we were able to throw at all. I had never before competed in front of such large crowds and the spectators in Warsaw numbered over 60,000. Track athletes were treated like rock stars and pursued for autographs. Wilma Rudolph was a fan favorite and she was ever patient with her fans taking time to sign every child’s request.
The two Polish men’s javelin throwers were Janusz Sidlo (the Polish record holder with a throw of 282’3” -85.56meters) and Marian Machowina. Machowina won with a throw of 260 ft. and Sidlo threw 259 ft. Americans Fromm and Wilkinson placed third and fourth.
In 1962 I was again fortunate to be chosen to represent the USA at the USA vs Poland dual meet in Chicago at the University of Chicago Track. I was chosen to throw the javelin on the basis of my previous javelin performances. In 1962 at the Los Angeles Coliseum I won the Women’s National Championships throwing 158’4 ½”. What made that experience even more memorable was that my mother was chosen to present the Javelin medals at the podium. Another honor was the fact that since the 1932 Olympics there had been few if any women’s track meets in the Los Angeles Coliseum and the javelin Coliseum stadium record was held by Babe Didrikson. The Babe’s record was 143’4”- a new Olympic Record set at the 1932 Olympics. Imagine, I only beat the Babe’s record by 15ft – 30 years later.
Sports Illustrated printed an article on July 9, 1962 about the Polish javelin thrower Janusz Sidlo and an American thrower he was coaching while at the meet– Karen Mendyka. There was a photo on page 50/51 of that issue. He was disappointed that the crowd in Chicago numbered only 13,000 and mentioned that in 1961 at the Dual meet in Warsaw there were 60,000 spectators sitting in a driving rain. Janusz was told that most of the 13,000 were of Polish decent who had migrated to Chicago. His English was not very good, however he could speak German as could I. So he was kind enough to give me some coaching tips before my competition.
My husband, Emil Pawlik (Urbancysk), and I are of Polish decent and are looking forward to going back to our roots. Emil is 100% Polish with roots in the Silesian area, while my father had Polish grandparents with names like Koczorowski, Mendyka and Konarska.
To a great meet in Torun, Poland, To seeing old friends, To discovering ancestry, and to Track and Field and to Travel.
by Karen Mendyka Huff-Pawlik
February 26, 2019