Born in Silesia, then part of Germany, to German parents, Józef Szmidt, nicknamed “the Silesian Kangaroo,” was the leading triple jumper of the world in early 1960s. Szmidt won the triple jump at the 1960 and 1964 Olympics and 1958 and 1962 European Championships. He also became the first triple jumper to break the 17 metre barrier, when he set his only world record of 17.03 just two weeks before the 1960 Olympics. He also competed at the 1968 Olympics, finishing seventh and at the 1966 and 1971 European Championships, finishing in 5th and 11th, respectively. He was also a 13-time Polish champion, winning triple jump titles in 1958, 1960, 1962-63, 1965-71; the long jump title in 1961; and 4x100 m relay titles in 1959 and 1960. Szmidt was elected as the Polish Sports Personality of the Year in 1960 and 1964.
Due to his popularity, after his athletics career, Szmidt, who was trained as a mechanic, was expected to enter politics with the Polish Communist Party, but he refused to do so, which led the Communist government to revoke all his privileges and his public appearances were banned. This led him to defect to West Germany in 1975 during the Polish football team’s match against West Germany during a 1976 UEFA Euro qualifying match, when Szmidt managed to be included among the small fan base allowed to accompany the national team. In West Germany Szmidt settled in Lüdenscheid, where he worked as a physical therapist. In 1992 Szmidt returned to Poland, where he purchased a farm near Drawsko Pomorskie, raising a goat herd and cultivating fruit trees.
Personal Bests: 100 – 10.4 (1961); TJ – 17.03 (1960).
Athlete Olympic Results Content