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O.C. Team Gets Gold With Foreign Mettle

The group earns top honors in a 'toughest cop alive' competition in Barcelona after a Polish athlete steps up to help it out of a snafu.

August 11, 2003|Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writer

With a last-minute lift from an unexpected ally, a team of Orange County police officers has captured the gold medal in the "toughest cop alive" competition at the 2003 World Police and Fire Games in Spain.

Due to a snafu caused by a British airline strike, one of the four members of the squad representing Orange County never made it to Barcelona. The three who did were allowed to randomly select a replacement from a pool of athletes who had arrived alone, hoping to join a team.

Dave Martinez, a veteran Buena Park patrolman and his remaining teammates, who won the silver medal the last time around, drew Macias Wojciechowski, an instructor at one of Poland's police academies, as their wild card. And with the gold medal riding on the outcome of the eighth and final event, an obstacle course, Wojciechowski proved to be a tough cop indeed.

At the start of the course, Wojciechowski, who had captured first place in the 5K race, suffered a rib separation in the first stage, in which competitors carry 165-pound dummies. Despite the pain, he completed the obstacle course quickly enough to take first place. Paramedics took him from the finish line to the hospital.

"He was in utter pain. But he continued," said Martinez. "I would say that's the true essence of the 'toughest cop alive' competition, to go through such pain and be able to continue."

The games are held every two years and are open to active and retired police officers and firefighters worldwide. The event grew out of the California Police and Fire Games. The goal is to promote physical fitness and camaraderie. This year's event, held July 27 through Aug. 3, paid tribute to firefighters and peace officers who lost their lives in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York City.

The other Americans on the team were Damon Tucker, a former Irvine cop now working as an investigator with the Orange County district attorney's office, and Thomas Valentine, a gang investigator for the Placentia police. The fourth member was supposed to be a Rialto police officer, a last-minute substitute for a Buena Park officer who left the force.

Each Orange County officer had strong individual showings. Tucker won the 100-meter swim event; Martinez took first in the shot put and bench press. Martinez and Valentine also competed as individuals to become the toughest cop, finishing third and fourth respectively.

Martinez, Tucker and Valentine were members of the team that took the silver medal at the 2001 World Games in Indianapolis.

Martinez said his team is the first in the United States to win the team category in at least 20 years.

"A lot of it has to do with experience," Martinez said. "Our experience is what helped us a lot."

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