Updated: Thursday, 13 February 2014 21:29 | By Agence France-Presse

Kowalczyk makes Polish history in women's skiing 10k

Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland on Thursday heroically overcame an ankle injury to become the all time greatest Polish Winter Olympian when she destroyed Norway's stranglehold on the women's cross country events to take gold in the 10km classic.


Kowalczyk makes Polish history in women's skiing 10k

Poland's Justyna Kowalczyk rests on the snow at the finish line after winning gold in the Women's Cross-Country Skiing 10km Classic at the Laura Cross-Country and Biathlon Center on February 13, 2014 - by Kirill Kudryavtsev

Kowalczyk, who fractured her ankle just weeks before the Olympics, overtook ski jump legend Adam Malysz to become the Polish athlete with the most Winter medals, on five medals.

Kowalczyk more than justified her status of favourite in the merciless time trial event, finishing in 28min 17.8sec, a colossal 18.4sec ahead of her nearest rival Charlotte Kalla of Sweden who took silver.

Therese Johaug of Norway took the bronze in 28min 46.1sec.

The race took place in balmy temperatures of 13 degrees Celsius that saw many competitors strip down to T-shirts but the hot weather could not stop Kowalczyk who now adds to the gold she won in the 30km mass start in Vancouver 2010.

Her victory has made Sochi 2014 Poland's best ever Winter Olympics, after the victory of Kamil Stoch in the normal hill ski jump on Sunday.

Until these Games, Poland could only boast two golds at Winter Games -- Kowalczyk from 2010 and Wojciech Fortuna who won won the men's large hill in the 1972 ski jumping.

"It's taken a lot of years of hard work. This is the gold number four in the history in Poland. So I think this is something big," said Kowalczyk.

Kowalczyk's great rival Marit Bjoergen of Norway had an off day by her standards, finishing in fifth place over half a minute behind the leader.

-'I was fighting with myself'-

The triumphant Pole, who has been taking medication for the ankle injury that has troubled her for several weeks, broke down in tears in the finish area.

The tough undulating course and tricky conditions where made for Kowalczyk, who is famed for her astonishing stamina and mental strength that overcome her technical shortcomings as a skier.

"I broke my foot two weeks ago. I was fighting with myself with this injury," she said.

Kowalczyk had at the end of January horrified her fans by posting a picture on Facebook of her grossly swollen left foot and then an X-ray showing the fracture.

Norway had until now taken all the medals available in the women's cross country with Bjoergen winning the skiathlon and Maiken Caspersen Falla the freestyle sprint.

Kowalcyzk had not seemed at her best in the skiathlon and had dropped out of the sprints on Tuesday to concentrate on the 10km classic, widely seen as her best event. 

"It helped a lot. It was good to focus on one race," said Kowalczyk.

The warm conditions made tough going for the skiers, many of whom said afterwards that race was one of the toughest they had ever done with slushy and slow snow.

"It was so hot I thought I was going to get sunstroke," said Yulia Chekaleva of Russia who came 11th.

Many of the athletes wore only T-shirts and Bjoergen said she would have worn even less if she could.

"I was dressed as lightly as possible and I only wore that because I had to have something on," said Bjoergen.

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