Maja Włoszczowska is the most successful Polish athlete competing in mountain biking (MTB). She has twice won Olympic silver medals in cross country (2008 and 2016). She was also world champion (2010) and four times world vice-champion, as well as champion (2009) and quadruple European vice-champion. On top of that, she has won all the medals of the MTB marathon world championships.
Since 2021, she has been on the Sports Commission of the International Olympic Committee and, on its behalf, is on the Coordinating Commission of the 2023 European Games Krakow – Małopolska.
Just two years ago you competed in the Tokyo Olympics and last year you were ranked by the International Cycling Union (UCI). There were no thoughts of continuing your career until the European Games in Krakow and Malopolska?
– On the one hand, after the start in Tokyo I felt in great shape and competed in more events that season. However, my thoughts didn’t go that far ahead because the European Games were then two years away. And if I had raced until then, I would probably have thought that one more year and there would be another Olympics. I’ve had enough of racing in the mountains, although I’m not saying I’ll never appear on the start line again. Anyway, last year I took part in the UCI Gravel Series competition in Poland. The International Cycling Union put a strong emphasis on promoting this competition. One of the world championship qualifiers was held in our country. I won, which made me happy because there were also road racers competing. Gravel is a combination of road and off-road racing. You ride mainly on gravel. The bike is similar to a road bike except that it has fatter wheels.
In 2015, you competed in the European Games in Baku. It was the first edition of this event. What memories do you have?
– Very positive. The organisation was almost on the level of the Olympic Games. All the athletes took the start very seriously. I prepared for the event as if it were the Olympic Games. I came back with a bronze medal, so it was a good prediction before competing a year later in Rio de Janeiro. The European Games were a great stop before the Olympic Games.
This year is no different. Athletes can test themselves a year before the Olympic Games in Paris. For example, MTB cycling will be competing at the European Championships and there will also be opportunities to gain points for Olympic qualification.
– This is a good direction for the development of the European Games. It is a young event and it will take time for it to gain prestige. An example is the Asian Games, which are highly regarded on the continent. Holding European Championships-level competitions or the possibility of an Olympic qualification will help build the prestige of the European Games. Especially as the competition calendars are usually tight and it should be natural that in the year of the European Games the European Championships are held during this event. The higher the rank, the better the athletes, and this also attracts fans. The Association of European Olympic Committees should therefore negotiate with the federations of the individual sports as early as possible. Next year is the Olympic Games in Paris, so in a similar climate to the European Games. For many athletes, the start in Krynica-Zdrój will be a target event because an Olympic qualification can be won.
A mountain biking course is being built on the slopes of Parkowa Mountain. What should it be like?
– I will certainly want to ride on it and possibly offer some advice. The planning is being done by a man who has been involved in MTB cycling for years, so he knows what is needed. From the riders’ point of view, it’s important that it’s versatile and technical, but also wide enough to get ahead of your rivals.
Do the Poles have a chance of success? Do the walls help?
– The biggest is Bartłomiej Wawak, who can ride at the level of the World Cup top ten. And at the top, it is often the disposition of the day that decides the place. In men’s MTB cycling, the best riders are mainly from Europe, so the competition should be at the highest level. In the women’s race, apart from the Europeans, there are also the Americans and Canadians. Of course, we can count on Paula Gorycka, and recently young Matylda Szczecińska, who has won foreign competitions under the age of 23, has been showing her good side. She can afford a place in the second ten. And as for whether walls help, by all means. In MTB cycling, fans can stand right next to the course, and cheering helps a lot. That’s why I invite fans to turn up in crowds at the European Games, as well as at other competitions in Poland.