Radosław Kawęcki (16 August, 1991) is a Polish backstroke swimmer who challenges for honours in the world’s leading competitions at both the 100m and 200m distances.
Radosław’s first appearance on an international podium came in Monterrey, Mexico at the 2008 FINA World Junior championships, where he won the 200m backstroke bronze medal. The following year, he won the 200m backstroke title at the European Junior Championships in Prague, before moving on to Rome where he made the finals of the 200m backstroke. Despite finishing seventh, he broke the Polish record in both the semi-final and final. He finished off the year with a 200m backstroke silver medal at the European SC Championships in Istanbul, where he also placed fourth in the 100m backstroke, breaking the Polish record in the semi-final.
2010 did not produce any major international podium finishes despite some impressive performances. At the European Championships in Budapest, he narrowly missed out on a 200m backstroke bronze medal, and in the same event at the World SC Championships in Dubai, came sixth, less than a second behind the third-placed finish.
Radosław swam in his second World Championships in Shanghai in 2011, when he once again made the 200m backstroke final, finishing fifth. Just over four months later, his hard work and persistence paid off as he put his near misses behind him with his first major international gold medals at the European SC Championships in front of his home crowd in Szczecin. He won both 100m and 200m backstroke events, breaking the national record at the shorter distance.
2012 brought further progress as Radosław produced several impressive performances. First, at the European Championships in Debrecen, he not only won his first European title, he also broke the six-year-old championship record as he swam to victory in the 200m backstroke in 1:55.28, beating his own personal best which was set in a polyurethane suit. Two months later he competed at his first Olympics in London, where he improved dramatically from the heats to the semis and the final, finishing tied fourth in a time of 1:55.59. Following three FINA/Arena World Cup appearances in October in Dubai, Doha and Berlin – winning 200m backstroke at the first two – he moved on to the European SC Championships in Chartres, where he successfully defended his 200m backstroke title in a new championship record time of 1:48.51. But he reserved the finest hour of his career to date for the World SC Championships in Istanbul, where he won his first world title. After placing sixth in the 100m backstroke final, he produced a superb final 50m in the 200m backstroke to take the world title in 1:48.48, beating world record holder Ryan Lochte into second place by 0.02s.
At the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona, he was unable to repeat his eclipse of Lochte, however, but he pushed him all the way, taking the silver medal in 1:54.24. Less than half a second behind the winner, Radoslav’s time set a new European record. He also made the semi-finals of the 100m backstroke, missing out on the final by just one-hundredth of a second.
One might say you’ve come of age when you defeat your own role model. In that case, Radoslav Kawecki has most certainly come of age, since not only did he defeat the legendary Ryan Lochte in arguably his strongest event (200m backstroke), he did so on one of swimming’s biggest global stages – at a World SC Championships.
Such victories are, as the cliché goes, the product of hard work, dedication, and determination, qualities that are absolute prerequisites at this level of the sport. And so it is with Radoslav, a focused, down-to-earth youngster who prefers training in his relatively small and quiet western Poland home town of Zielona Góra than anywhere else. It’s here that he was taken on by backstroke specialist coach Jacek Miciul, despite his small stature for a backstroker – the Polish press has described him as “small, smart, agile”. Surprisingly for his size, he has also mastered his underwater push on the turns, frequently making it to the 15m legal limit; in fact, such is this skill of his that he was recently disqualified at the 2013 Moscow World Cup for exceeding the 15m limit, thereby denying him a clean sweep in the five 200m backstroke events to date (as of writing) on the 2013 FINA World Cup tour.
In a country without a long tradition of world class swimmers, Radoslav is emerging as one for the nation’s annals, but the notion of fame and recognition is the furthest thing from his mind. He is modest – “I try not to think that I’m famous, I’m a very private person and I keep my private life to myself “ – and doesn’t really enjoy the long-distance travel that his career requires – ”In an ideal world I would always stay close to my home town.” His favourite place is his parent’s home – “It’s the place I feel the best, I’m very close with my family” – and to have fun he likes to “spend time with my friends and family”.
The honest, hard-working values Radoslav learned during his upbringing stem from a family of mine-workers, with his father, brother, uncle and cousin all working in the copper mines in Głogów, the southwestern town where he was born. In addition to giving him a strong work ethic, his admiration for them in their back-breaking work underground has instilled in him a sense of altruism, and whenever the opportunity rises, he “tries to add value to someone else’s life. I support charities when I can and I also participate in various events around less privileged people, so that I can bring a smile to their faces”.
This down-to-earth character also extends to his professional swimming career, as he has learned to take the good with the bad: “Things don’t always go according to plan, and when things don’t work out I always bring myself back up, mainly because I don’t want to let anyone down (myself included). When the hard times come I focus on a long term goal and think of a bad day/week as a small battle. Sometimes fighting those small battles are necessary in order to accomplish your long-term goal.” Wise words from a young mind, one that’s also humble and philosophical: “I never pretend to be someone that I’m not. I believe that in order to be unique you have to be yourself as other places are already taken by someone else.”
In many other respects, however, he’s also a normal young man. He’s into cars and speed, illustrated by his favourite film, Fast and Furious, and dreams of owning an Audi RS7. Radoslav gives away the two sides of his personality in rationalizing his choice: “It’s such a dynamic, fast and gorgeous car and still very safe to drive and reliable”.
His favourite actress is Jessica Alba, “simply because I think she is absolutely stunning, has a gorgeous smile and a great personality”. He enjoys the music of David Guetta and Armin van Buuren, is a fan of both the book and movie The Godfather, and likes to play the Call of Duty video game with his friends.
For a young rising star that promises to leave his mark on Polish swimming, the country’s youngsters couldn’t wish for a better role model – well balanced, hard-working, positive, and unselfish.