(ATR) For the first time in the Olympics, there's a Hula among the medal winners.
Stefan Hula Jr. and his three team mates from Poland captured the bronze medal Feb. 19 in the ski jumping team event. They almost edged Germany for the silver. Norway dominated to win gold.
I’ve been following Stefan Hula since 2006, when he first competed at the Winter Olympics in Turin. He was back for Vancouver, but did not make the team for Sochi. We had never met, so when I learned he was part of the Polish team in PyeongChang, I resolved to say hello to my self-proclaimed cousin from Poland. Polish team media chief Henryk Urbas made the arrangements.
We met the afternoon following the team event at the Olympic Village. A happy Hula sounded relieved and relaxed as we chatted.
"Dreams come true," he said. "I’m very proud of what we’ve done. This is the first medal from Poland in the team event."
The bronze caps a week that brought a gold medal for Poland in the men’s large hill individual event, won by Kamil Stoch. Hula finished 15th. He finished fifth in the normal hill, an Olympic best.
Hula was born in 1986 in southern Poland in the mountains near Zakopane. His father was a renowned Nordic combined athlete who competed at Winter Olympics Sapporo and Innsbruck, long before Stefan Jr was born.
"He is a good teacher," he says about his father, who started training him when he was seven. Now he’s carrying on the tradition, teaching his six-year-old daughter how to ski jump. He and wife Marcelina have another daughter, now a year old. The children remained in Poland while their parents went to South Korea.
The two have a business that manufactures ski jumping suits. Marcelina does the stitching, Stefan provides the proof of performance. Playing off the family name, the business is called "Hooligans". But with the suits worn by Poles for three gold medals since Sochi, Hula says the custom made duds are only sold to Polish athletes.
"We don’t want to make suits for other countries", he says with a conspiratorial laugh. But while the suit is special, Hula slaps his thighs to add "most important is a big push with the legs on the jump."
While I have claimed Hula as a relative, the details of my family’s Polish heritage have unfortunately not been documented. The first Hulas of our family line immigrated to the U.S. in the early 20th century, but I have no evidence other than name that me and Stefan are linked. And if DNA is any judge, I have had little urge in my life to plummet down the icy track of a ski jump.
Hula also did not appear to have any clues about any long lost branches of the family tree in the U.S.
While the family connection may be fuzzy, the Olympic link is solid. It’s another example of the power of the Games to bring people together.
Stefan Hula now has a small but dedicated following in the U.S. While I was thinking these might be his last, Hula says he’s looking forward to Beijing in 2022.
"I think why not? I am strong, in good health. I am ready."
We’ll organize the cheering section.
Reported in PyeongChang by Ed Hula.