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05/08/2016 19:02
Brzostek and Kołosińska make history for Poland in Rio
2016 Olympic Games

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 5, 2016. When talking to Monika Brzostek and Kinga Kołosińska, it is impossible not to be moved by their enthusiasm. All smiles, the Polish team are the embodiment of optimism as they make last minute preparations before the start of the Olympic Games. For the two, the journey to Rio has been an absolute whirlwind, filled with challenge after challenge. Yet having surpassed them all, the team has plenty to be proud of.

The duo first met ten years ago, and later teamed up in 2009. Their partnership was cemented by a win in the 2009 edition of the U21 World Championship in Blackpool, England, a memory that both hold dear. Yet it wasn’t until the past few years that the two began to seriously consider making a run for an Olympic berth.

This is where it all began: Kinga and Monika playing at the 2009 FIVB U21 World Championship in Blackpool, England, where they won gold

“Our coach Lukas started the first ever conversation about the Rio Project exactly four years ago, when we started our cooperation with him. He was seriously sure we could do it, even though we both didn’t believe we actually could!” Brzostek recalls, thinking back to that period.  A smile appears on her face, growing wider and transforming into an all-out beam. “And here we are, with our ticket to Rio. I’m proud of our team and what we have achieved during this tough four years!”

Kołosińska elaborates on their feelings: “Actually we still don’t believe it! It was a really hard path to Rio. As every team we had a lot of problems during this year, but we could handle them. Right now we are so proud to represent our country at the Olympics.”

As the final leg of the qualification period, the start of 2016 proved to be a very challenging time. Although the duo had strong finishes in Rio in March, they suffered a disappointing setback a few months later in Vitoria. Yet the Poles regrouped, and later were able to find their footing.

“For sure the first three tournaments in Brazil were tough, because we didn’t think we were ready to start our season so early,” Brzostek explains, describing all the ups and downs. “We started our preparation in December, but our real practices didn’t start until January, in Tenerife.  It was a tough time with a lot of hard weight lifting, but we did it. We achieved a great 9th place in Maceio and 2nd in the Rio Grand Slam, which was crucial in our road to the Olympics.”

Further describing this trying period, Kołosińska adds: “That time was hard, because we still weren’t sure if we had a spot in Rio. We did everything what we could and we grabbed silver in the Rio [Grand Slam]. But all that time we had, like Monika said, hard weight lifting and it was impossible to reach our full level.”

Kinga and Monika portrayed during the gold medal match of the Rio Grand Slam contested earlier this year on Copacabana, where they lost to Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross of USA

The silver in Rio was a special event for the team, representing a new personal best. As they further discuss the memory, it is readily apparent how special it is for them. Brzostek enthusiastically recalls: “We couldn’t believe we did it! It was a great feeling that finally our hard work paid off. For sure we wanted to do our best during our match against Kerri [Walsh Jennings] and April [Ross]. We knew that they are tough opponent, but we tried to focus more on us, and do every bump, every set and spike the best we could - because it was the only option to beat them.”  Pragmatically, she adds: “We didn’t win, but we gained so much experience during this game.”

With an equal amount of thoughtful joy, Kołosińska intones: “It was our first Grand Slam final, so that meant a lot for us. We tried to win but at that time Kerri and April were better. That was a good experience.”

Besides being the first women’s Polish Team to win silver, the two are also the first to medal, period. They did so back in 2015 in Olsztyn, one of the many stops on the road to Rio. Yet playing at home was extra special, as Brzostek simply but perfectly describes. “Great venue, home crowd: I mean come on! What can be better than this?”

Adds Kołosińska: “It was such a special moment for us - first medal at home. We couldn’t do that at a better place.” Shortly before that achievement, they also won bronze at the European Championship in Klagenfurt – the first ever medal for a women’s Polish tandem since the premier continental competition was established in 1994.

Going forward, the pair recognise that the road is going to be challenging, to say the least.  Although reaching gold is difficult in general, Brzostek and Kołosińska find themselves in Pool A, where they will face not only a Brazilian team [Larissa França/Talita Antunes] eager to please the home crowd, but an American team [Lauren Fendrick/Brooke Sweat] eager to prove themselves as well as Russia’s 2015 European silver medallists Evgenia Ukolova/Ekaterina Birlova. It will make for some dazzling, and hard contested, Beach Volleyball.

Kinga and Monika are known for their fighting spirit - and will be showcasing it at Rio 2016 as well

Yet both women have something, a power that not only fuels their enthusiasm, but also their confidence. Not only are they the first women’s team to medal in Poland, they are also the first to ever qualify for the Olympics. Such a distinction is electrifying, creating a special feeling that is not so easily diminished. As soon as they step out onto the court, the two are sure to fight for every point.

When asked if they are feeling excited or nervous, Brzostek replies with a laugh. “Both! We are excited and nervous! I would like to focus only on the next rally. I don’t want to think who I play next, or what will be tomorrow. Just on the next action and all will be good.”

She adds: “We are really proud to be here, but it wasn’t only us who were working on this success for the last four years. We should thank our Head Coach Lukas, our second coach Damian, our physiotherapist Piotrek, and our physical coach Piotrek.”  (Mischievously, Brzostek confirms that the team’s physiotherapist and physical coach do indeed share the same first name).

And of course, the pair will have each other. Having been through, and achieved, so much, they are ready and fired up to take on anything. In a single sentence, Kołosińska describes not only their strategy, but also how close and dedicated the team is. “When we are in a bad moment, we always look straight into our eyes and say to each other that it’s time to start playing!”

For Monika Brzostek and Kinga Kołosińska, their journey to Rio has been an adventure. One thing is for sure: the two are not done yet. No matter what comes, they are going to fight tooth and nail and keep on going.  

Many thanks to Daniel D’Arce for contributing to this article

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