Zofia Bilorówna And Tadeusz Kowalski: Polish Figure Skating Pioneers

Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland

Founded in the thirteenth century, the city of Lviv changed hands many times over the centuries. Now considered one of the ten largest cities in Ukraine, Lviv has been taken over by the Soviets, Lithuanians, Poles, Germans and countless others over the centuries. Residents of this city respect the importance of history but even today, the contribution of two of its residents to figure skating's history is something that has been long forgotten.

Photos courtesy National Archives of Poland

Born on May 31, 1894, Tadeusz Kowalski was the son of Mieczysława and Emilii (Kubala) Kowalski. Joining the Wojsko Polskie (Polish army) as a young man, he rose through the military and was promoted to the rank of Captain in August of 1924 at the age of thirty for his service during the Polish-Soviet War. A year earlier, his friend Henry Bilora had achieved the same honour. Both young men played football together at the 1st Military-Civilian Sports Club, a vast sporting complex in
Czarni Lwów that included football fields, cycling and running tracks, tennis, basketball and volleyball courts and an ice rink. It was at that one-stop shop sporting facility (known as the 'Czarni') that he was introduced to his friend Bilora's younger sister Zofia Bilorówna. Zofia, five years younger than Tadeusz and ten years younger than her brother Henry, was considered one of the most talented skaters who held membership in the Sports Society.

Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland

Zofia and Tadeusz teamed up in 1926 and the very next year, won their first of an incredible nine consecutive Polish pairs titles. On February 23, 1934, they made history twice at the European Figure Skating Championships... by being both the first Polish pairs team to compete at a major ISU championship and by being the first Polish pairs team to win a medal at a major ISU championship. Following up their feat with top five finishes at the 1934 World Championships and 1935 European Championships, they ended their competitive career in 1935. Their 1934 medal win was Poland's best result internationally for decades until Grzegorz Filipowski came on the scene and won two European medals and a World bronze medal in the eighties.

Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland

Both Tadeusz Kowalski and Henry Bilora were involved in the defense of Lviv during the Invasion of Poland. Captured by the Charkowie branch of the NKWD in 1939, they were both murdered during The Katyn Massacre. It's believed Henry was killed in Kiev; Tadeusz in Kharkov. In a matter of months, Zofja mourned both her brother and skating partner. Little is known about her fate in the years that followed aside from the fact she passed away on June 23, 1962 in Rzeszów. What we do know is that team has never really received much attention... and it is time that changed.

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