Edward Jancarz, “Eda” for all those close to him, “Eddy” for the rest of us. Man of the legend and a tragedy waiting to happen. To us, he will remain a great speedway rider, murdered by his second wife at his home. All the countless hours spent researching all published materials available, rehearsing all the interviews and videos, makes me want to abandon the known scenario and the public view of Eddy’s life. His story seems very similar to that of the great actor, Robin Williams, who was regarded as the funny guy of Hollywood, but only through the films he was in. What was the real Edward Jancarz like? I don’t know myself. I have personally only met him about twice in my life but from all the material that I have gathered and studied, it looks like he was a very estranged man.
In this tale, I will try to paint a picture of Jancarz as a man outside of the track, not a speedway rider. What was he like? What did he like doing? What was his reactions like? His sister, Grazyna Wilk, a few years back, in a very moving and personal interview with Sandra Rakiej, recalled his brother like this:
– First of all, Edward was a very caring brother, he always looked after me. He always remembered to bring me something back from his numerous voyages. When he was coming back late from meetings and I was already in bed, he’d always wake me up. He would always tell how the match went, whether he did good or bad and he always had a little gift for me. I remember once he brought me a great toy from his tour to Australia- a koala bear. It was a wound-up toy that was climbing a tree. I was so excited and happy about it, as back then we had nothing like this in Poland. If I had my eye on something I would always get it from him. As he would often say “go and buy it, sister”. I tried to explain that I didn’t want to have all that fancy clothing as I didn’t want show off too much to my friends, but he insisted as he wanted me to look and dress well. When Edward was coming back home, before he even got off his car, all the local kids were all over him surrounding him like a proper hero. He was bringing back from England a car full of those green peppermint chewing gums. We didn’t have those in Poland back then, I still remember that strong minty taste. Edward was handing them out to all those kids, leaving some for me. All my schoolmates were looking forward to his English trips too as they knew I will bring some of those around. Generally, he was only talking about speedway. At times he’d say a joke or tell a story but that would only last 10 minutes or so, he’d quickly get back to the main subject. He’d then stay home a moment but couldn’t take it too long, he’d soon get back to the track. We only talked about speedway at home. He wasn’t into any other sports. He wasn’t even into any other forms of training, like running or gym. Once he bought himself some weights and started to exercise a bit but soon enough he was back at the stadium on his bike. He took no interest in football or volleyball, not even supported the national teams as speedway was the only thing that mattered to him. When back home, he was only in and out! Came round, ate his dinner and back to his speedway. When he did stay for longer it felt like a holiday. Our mum was banned from the stadium as she was bringing bad luck. Each time she did go to watch Edward race, he would end up in a crash or have a bad day. Mum had to stay home but I was allowed to watch. He once gave me a ride on his bike on the track. I was so terrified. He calmly said to simply hold on tight and that it will be fun and nothing will happen. Another time, he bought me a dog. Not of any breed, just a normal common dog. He told me to take the dog everywhere I went so it could protect me. Edward was looking out for me and was worried, so the dog was always by my side from then.
Popularity was bothering Jancarz. Grazyna explained: – There was never a problem when he was getting asked for an autograph at the stadium. He’d happily sign hundreds of them and posed for photos with the fans. However, he was tired of the fact that he was a recognisable figure outside of the speedway track. He’d say that it gets on his nerves that everybody knows who he was. My brother was a very shy person. He hardly ever had a joke or a laugh. He would only confide in very close friends. He was also very stubborn. Once he started something he’d make sure he finishes it, even if he struggled, he’d have a break and would come back to it after. Little trivial things like firing up a barbecue, could be a challenge that he’d have to succeed in. He was having troubles sleeping, especially before important meetings. He had sleepless nights every time there was a championship at stake. If he managed to get some sleep at all, at the early hours of the morning, we would have to tiptoe around his room not to wake him up. Those were stressful times. When he had a chance, he’d go to church on Sunday before the meeting. I even remember he’d always make a cross sign each time he was out in a race. He took it badly when he crashed heavily in a challenge match with Italy. He was forced to retire early. He tried to stay in the sport as a coach. He became a manager at Krosno. Every step he took, was to get him back on the bike. He wanted it with his whole heart as speedway was all he had.
This personal and honest testimony of the younger sister paints a picture of an isolated and lonesome man. A man who was fed up with his popularity and would not let anybody get close to him. Jancarz understood the meaning of success and what it meant to be adored by fans. If he had it his way, he’d only limit his stardom to the stadium. Outside he wanted to remain anonymous, and an average guy, but this was not possible. When all this passion and the life he loved had to go and he had nowhere to hide, something burst in him. He was using his popularity but in the wrong way. Being an introvert, when all brakes were off because of his alcohol abuse, he often exploded. All the emotions, hidden away for so long deep inside him were exploding with a devastating force. He became aggressive, violent. Stress and alienation had finally found a way out. This explains the two different faces of “Eddy”.
The money he earned riding in the English League, at the beginning of the 1980’s, Jancarz invested in building a house. He and the architect Jerzy Kaszyca built this double family home by Chodkiewicza street in Gorzow. After his riding days were over he lived on a small pension. He was planning to downsize, sell the house and buy a flat. He ran out of time. Today, the house belongs to his sister, Alina Sztendig who lives there with her family. The house was also home to his late mother, Bronislawa who died not so long ago. In one of the largest bedrooms, his other sister stores her stuff in but doesn’t want to live in there as they had a disagreement about something.
Jancarz died in the evening of January the 11th 1992, from the injuries after an attack by his wife Katarzyna. They were getting ready to go out for a sporting gala at the Mieszko hotel. The ex-rider got drunk again and it made Katarzyna furious. They fought in the hallway and in effect she stabbed him with a knife multiple times. Katarzyna got sentenced to 9 years in jail. She left the Krzywaniec prison after serving half of it, for good behaviour. She lives on Zawarcie, not far from the track, she owns a little tailoring shop. At the family request, she has no rights to Jancarz’s will.
The Gorzow man had quickly entered the speedway scene. After only four years of racing, he became a bronze medalist of the World Individual Championships. Press titles from the reporting papers of the Goeteborg final from 1969 screamed: ,,Polish sensation at Ullevi!”, ,,Talent like nobody else before”. The legend was born. He started to be more recognised. At the end of the 70’s, his fame was peaking as Eddy was racing abroad too, in Great Britain for Wimbledon. In London he gained respect and the famous “Eddy” nickname. The British quickly became accustomed to the “Jancarz” brand, which he built up for ages. Not only was he winning on the track but he was working hard and long on his bikes. His workload was rewarded in real money, the British pound was a very desirable currency in communist Poland. It made him a rich man and secured his future. He bought a new Mercedes and could build a dream mansion at his home town. In 1984 at 38 years-old his career was beginning to end, even though he was still a top rider. Unfortunately, life is brutal at times. On August the 9th, days before the World Team Cup, he sustained horrible injuries in a nasty crash in a test-match against the Italians. Severe concussion, fractured skull, brain haemorrhage and a broken shoulder blade. The damage to his body was serious but after months of rehabilitation, he returned to the track. It was time to put the bike away, as his mind was telling him.
After his retirement, he had a lot of time for himself, but others also wanted a piece of him. Social life does not count the hours. In 1998 he left his wife, Halina, after she stayed by his side following that nasty accident four years earlier. She nursed him back to life. For years she was immune to his lifestyle as a famous sportsperson. After the divorce there was a time when she reached out to him when he was an addict, she tried to get him off the drink. Even she could not take more of the new “Eddy” who’s life seemed to be taken over by his new shady friendships and bottles of vodka. She simply run out of patience. When he was at Krosno, coaching, he was quite strict and was keeping himself in line, according to one of his former riders, Krystian Endrich. He would lecture his riders on bike preparation and how attention to details mattered, and timekeeping. If any of them had a lie-in and as they all slept in the same hotel, as Krosno drafted all their riders from all different parts of Poland, he would barge in out of nowhere and grab the rider and get him of his bed saying: – Are you expecting me, the World Champion, to make you a cup of tea?
Some years after, he was ashamed to be seen on the streets of Gorzow by anybody that he knew or coached, all dirty and intoxicated. He kept turning his head away, pretending he didn’t know who they were. He was aware that he was on a slippery slope but did not want to hear that he had an alcohol problem. He was telling stories when his close friends and family wanted to send him to rehab. He was then saying that if he wanted, he could kick the booze the next day. He was in denial and being a former champ had its advantages. Police turned the blind eye on his drink driving and gave him the licence back after he had double the limit, the court dismissed the case so Eddy could leave the jury box and get to the nearest bar and get a drink. Nobody was really helping Jancarz back then. They were only “helping” him to reach the gutter quicker. Nobody had the guts to shake him up, get him by the scruff of the nack and get him better. But Jancarz himself could not sort his own life out.
After divorcing his first wife, Halina, Jancarz quickly found a new woman, Katarzyna. She wasn’t as obedient as the first one. The champ had changed his ways too. In sport you have to be hard as nails to reach the top, average individuals don’t make it. The biggest trick is to find your bearings after you retire and all the lights turn off. This is a tough choice and you need a strong character until the end to survive. Not all can manage that. Classy athlete but could not handle it. His life and his alcohol. Something cracked inside him, he just could not face his weaknesses. He did not let anybody help him either. They often fought at home, had violent arguments and one of those ended tragically. He was 46-year old.
Edward Jancarz was, without a doubt one of the greats Polish sportsmen, bronze medalist from Goeteborg at the World Championships, winner of the World Cup, 7-time Polish League champion… The list of achievements goes on and on. He was somebody that young riders looked up to. Between 1977-1982 he was scoring points for the London club, Wimbledon. He was also very popular over there. Riding in Britain made him rich. It was the money that he earned over in Britain, that he could built his luxury house at the centre of Gorzow and he could afford a nice car. This other, darker world that Jancarz lived in, was one of drinking, constant arguing and getting lost in it. Jancarz himself admitted to the fact that his life will not be the same without speedway. In one of “Przeglad Sportowy” interviews, we can read him quoting: “No speedway, no reason to live” people often spotted him in the streets drunk and looking second hand.
His ex-wife still cared for him, even after the divorce she tried hard to get him off the drink. She gave up at the end. She just could not shake off all those dodgy people he surrounded himself with. When she has seen Edek walking about with no purpose in life, trying to find his next drink, she’d take him home, wash him and his clothes. Even then, he’d soon enough end up back in the gutter – remembers Zenon Plech, Jancarz National Team partner, for “Przeglad Sportowy”.
Countless fights and violent disputes were getting common at the ex-Stal Gorzow rider’s home. One of those disputes ended up in a tragedy. His second wife murdered him by stabbing him with a kitchen knife. The verdict said it was a voluntary manslaughter. Opinions were divided, Boguslaw Nowak, a former Stal Gorzow rider, said in a “Przeglad Sportowy” article: – She’s taken the knife from the kitchen and followed Eddy upstairs. To me, it looked like it was premeditated.
He then adds: – The fact of the matter was, that Katarzyna had every right to be threatened as Edek was extremely aggressive when drunk. He had a very unhappy and sad life, but on the track, he was the best out of us all – said Boguslaw Nowak.
What does Jancarz life have to do with that of the famous actor, Robin Williams? Robin Williams in his heyday played in some significant films such as: “Awakenings”, “Good Morning Vietnam”, „Dead Poets Society”, „Good Will Hunting”, or „Mrs Doubtfire”. But he also starred in lesser-known movies which not many people remember, and rightly so. He was regarded as a comedian, good company and also a perfectionist at work. Williams is also famous for his quotes, not only through the fictional characters that he portrayed, but also his own bleeding heart. Although all seemed to be going for him, he was found dead, hanging on the 11th of August, 2014. It was a massive shock not only to his fans but also his close family and the general public, it was only when his wife Susan Schneider revealed about his diagnosis of the Parkinson Disease, that people realised that this could be a reason for the tragedy.
– I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone, it’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel alone – was his most famous quote. This is very characteristic for the speedway rider and the actor. Many people with low esteem feels like that. They end up isolated just to defend themselves. Loneliness can be horrible and can lead to misery, but worse than that is being surrounded by people you have no bond with. In those circumstances we may ask ourselves whether we have made correct choices in life, do we have enough good people around us who make a difference in our lives? Some of those quotes make us think that there was a void in his mind that he just could not fill. Others make us understand all the toxic things in his life that helped him face each day.
Just like Jancarz, when speedway was his hideout from the world of people that made him tired of it. He had no social skills and had low esteem. Despite all the success and bags full of medals. The self-criticism that I could always do better. This explains why he was always working so hard. Adam Jazwiecki tells a tale: – Cannot remember the year, it does not matter. Edward Jancarz is not a rider anymore, but Poland’s manager on their way to a semifinal at Lubljana, Slovenia. Among the riders, his good friend Zenon Plech and Zbigniew Blazejczak, who later in life, was sentenced to prison for murder, with his Zielona Gora team colleague. One hot summer day in Warsaw, we wait for Jancarz. On his way to Warsaw his red Mercedes ends up in a ditch, so he makes the rest of the journey in a tiny Fiat 126p belonging to Marek Kraskiewicz, the team manager. They carry speedway tyres on its roof and have Stanislaw Maciejewicz with them, who isn’t the smallest person in the world. They make it all the way across Europe, Plech makes it into the final and the micro car also makes the return journey back to Poland.
Adam Jazwiecki has more of those stories about Jancarz. They all show how determined he was and how much he cared for everything he was doing. He was very pedantic and had great attention to the smallest details and the importance of being on duty and making sure all is done on time. Is this how a common person act? Maybe Jancarz, just like Williams had issues with low self-esteem and lacked confidence. Always tried to prove, to himself mostly, that he can manage and that he will complete the task. “Eddy” was a remarkable guy.