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27.02.2015, 09:23
A Polish 'watchmaker' on his way to the peak
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RISING STARS OF 2015: It is not easy to score a goal when you have to and there are only two seconds left to play. But since the World Championship 2015 Michal Szyba knows how to handle situations like this
 

A Polish 'watchmaker' on his way to the peak

It is not easy to score a goal within two seconds; especially when these seconds are the game’s last two; when a World Championship bronze is at stake; when Spain are the opponents – but life would not be fun if things were always easy.

Poland’s right back Michal Szyba, whose last-gasp equaliser in the match for third place at Qatar 2015 brought the match to extra time during which Poland eventually beat Spain 29:28, knows this too well.

Szyba is 26, he turns 27 on 18 March. However, his national team debut dates back only two years. “Sometimes it’s better to climb slower but to stay longer at the peak,” is his simple analysis.

Golden boy – or not?

With both his parents being physical education teachers sport was at the focus of Szyba’s life from his early childhood days.

He tried out basketball and volleyball, but it was already at the end of primary school that he focused on handball.

With the local second division club, Unia Lublin, he quite quickly participated in regional contest when his talent was spotted by Jerzy Witaszek, the president of KS Azoty Puławy.

"He offered education in the high-school in Puławy with a place in the boarding house. And I was to train with the first team of Azoty. And so it happened," remembers Szyba.

This meant that he would attend a two-hour training session at 7 in the morning. Afterwards he went to school, and in the afternoon joined Azoty’s first team for another training session.

On the weekend he visited his parents in Lublin – but what about the party life of a ‘usual’ teenager?

"We had these too," he laughs. "I wasn’t a good boy! But I didn’t cause many problems. I was never summoned by the headmaster. Maybe I wasn’t an excellent student, but let’s say I learned well enough. Now I’ve got a master’s degree, so I think it’s not bad."

Never peak too early

At 17 celebrated his debut in the Polish first league and within a year he became a full-time player at Azoty.

At the same time he represented Poland in junior championships and when he was 19 Bogdan Wenta, back then Poland’s national team head coach even nominated him for the national team – but it was not a successful experience.

"That was like heaven and earth," recalls Szyba. "The difference between me and the others was huge as this was the time of the strongest national team ever with the Lijewski brothers (Marcin and Krzysztof) on my position.

"So this was definitely too early for me, I had to wait few years more. But history has seen many young players that reached the top when they were young and they then quickly disappeared. Sometimes it’s better to climb slower but to stay longer at the peak."

His debut in the senior national team eventually came in July 2013: Michael Biegler had taken over and the team, which had won silver and bronze respectively at the World Championships in 2007 and 2009, was in a transition period after stars such as Marcin Lijewski, Artur Siodmiak or Grzegorz Tkaczyk had retired.

But the young players, who joined the squad, were always able to count on the experience of those players that were left.

For Szyba it was fellow right back Krzysztof Lijewski who helped him."“He (Lijewski) is very open-minded person and has given me hints and help," Szyba says.

However, Szyba’s greatest handball moment to date came when Lijewski was not there, as he had injured himself before the knockout stages at the World Championship.

Hence it was Szyba who got also the ball into his hands when there were only seconds left to play in the bronze medal match against Spain.

Creating a new time unit

Spain are leading 24:23. Poland’s goalkeeper Slawomir Szmal has just saved Jorge Maqueda’s shot  and passes the ball forward.

Szyba enters the court and assumes his position on the right side. There are 10 seconds left. Centre back Jurkiewicz passes the ball to Jurecki. 5 seconds to go. Jurecki in the middle fakes a shot and passes the ball to Szyba, who has 2 seconds to finish…

"I just was on the court," he says. "We didn’t have a plan, there was no time. We didn’t even talk on the court!

"In the end Michal Jurecki tied two defenders and passed the ball to me. So I just caught it and threw it into the goal. That’s it!"

Thanks to "That’s it" the match went into extra time, and Poland eventually defeated Spain 29:28, taking home the bronze medal.

Since that moment, Poland has got a new time unit, 1 Szyba, which equals 2 seconds and Szyba received a new nickname: watchmaker.

"I said once that I would get that watch they were giving to each player of the match in Qatar!

"We were laughing with boys about it. And I finally did it in the last game!” he explains (pictured above).

It was well deserved as Szyba did not only score that one but eight goals overall in the match.

What followed was a spike in popularity including a series of TV interviews and even a visit to the presidential palace – but finally Szyba is back at his club, Slovenian side Gorenje Velenje with which he reached the EHF Cup Group Phase (Velenje play on 28 February at Pfadi Winterthur, a live ticker is available).

“Thanks to the fact that I play in Slovenia, I managed to run away from the media hype. I’m not used to permanent TV appearances. Here in Velenje the people are not that interested in the Polish team and me, so everything slowed down back. I train, eat, sleep and that’s all," he laughs.

It was only this season that he transferred to Velenje and he has not regretted his decision. "I wanted to try playing abroad.

"When you try something and it turns out to be mistake you always can go back to where you started. But if you don’t try you will spend the rest of your life thinking ‘What if..?’"


The rising handball stars of 2015

Part 1: Niko Mindegia (ESP) / Pick Szeged: "I dream of playing at the next EHF EURO"

Part 2: Kentin Mahé (FRA) / HSV Hamburg: Walking proudly in his father's steps

Part 3: Sander Sagosen (NOR) / Aalborg Handball: "I want to be the best in the world"

Part 4: Nikola Bilyk (AUT) / Fivers WAT Margareten: "Dreaming of becoming handball's Michael Jordan"

Photos: Qatar 2015


TEXT: Magda Pluszewska / ts
 
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