“I tell myself that I can do it, even if I have to eat sand”
A ski-jumping legend turned rally driver, Adam Małysz is gearing up for his fifth participation in the Rally Dakar. Here the Polish athlete speaks to the Newsroom about this second career – and the challenges that come with it.
They call him “The Polish Eagle.” A four-time Olympic medalist with 92 podiums and 198 top-ten finishes, Małysz retired from ski-jumping in 2010… only to qualify for his rally driver license a year later.
In 2012, he entered the Dakar for the first time, finishing 38th with co-driver Rafal Micha. In 2013, he took 15th and in 2014, 13th. His car caught fire in 2015, forcing him to withdraw from the race.
Now back on track, Małysz is gearing up for the 2016 edition of the Dakar – starting in just over two months in South America.
You went from ski-jumping to rally driving – why that second career, and why that sport in particular?
“When I decided to end my ski-jumping career I knew that staying at home was not for me. I hate doing nothing. At the same time I couldn’t even imagine my life without sport. And I’ve always been interested in motorsports. I had an off-road car and I was taking it for a spin in the mountains from time to time. It was my way of releasing stress and I really enjoyed it. At one point I got a specific offer from a man representing a rally team. I decided it would be great to make one of my biggest dreams come true and live such an adventure.”
How do you use possible similarities between both sports to improve your driving performances?
“It’s hard to compare ski-jumping with rally raids. During a jump, an athlete has to be fully focused just for a moment. In case of rallies, on those long special stages, it’s necessary to maintain high-level focus for many hours, sometimes even for days. From time to time I take advantage of the knowledge gained during my previous career – when I have to learn something new for example. Then some of the ski-jumping techniques come in handy.”
Why does the Dakar seem to attract athletes coming from all sorts of backgrounds, like Luc Alphand and you?
“I can’t fully explain it. Maybe it has something to do with the challenges people who are used to competitions have to face, or want to take up. It’s hard to suddenly stop preparing for something, stop working on a specific task. Obviously, there’s something magical and legendary about the Dakar. Taking part in that event involves making a dream come true, and finishing this rally is a reason to be proud.”
You’ve known such success on skis – what would success in a car look like?
“It would definitely be winning the Dakar. Every Cross-Country Rally World Cup victory would be valuable as well, not to mention success in the overall standings of the series.”
You’re gearing up for your fifth Dakar participation after making huge progress then withdrawing when your car caught fire earlier this year. What are your goals for the 2016 edition?
“We would like to take a place in the top 10.”
What was your view of the Dakar before first entering it and how has this evolved as you started racing it?
“I knew from the TV coverage and some stories I read that it was something extremely difficult. I watched exhausted drivers and machines reaching breaking point after many hours of racing. Turned out it was even worse in practice. Surviving this marathon is a great feat. Fortunately, I’m a determined guy so I told myself that I could do it, even if I had to eat sand. With time, day by day, I started to get used to the rally rhythm and I kind of adapted.”