Reuters - Sat, 27 Feb 21:28:00 2010
Marit Bjoergen's bid for a fourth gold at the Vancouver Games ended in dramatic fashion when she was edged out by Poland's Justyna Kowalczyk in a sprint finish to the women's 30km classical event.
Norway's Bjoergen had a 1.9-second lead with five kilometres to go but was overtaken by Kowalczyk after the skiers entered the stadium for the final time before being narrowly pipped in a thrilling race to the line.
World champion Kowalczyk repeatedly pumped her arms skywards in relief after completing the energy-sapping, lung-bursting event in one hour 30 minutes 33.7 seconds.
Bjoergen, already dubbed queen of the Winter Olympics after collecting three gold medals, finished just 0.3 seconds behind with Finland's Aino-Kaisa Saarinen taking the bronze.
"I feel great but I am also very tired," a beaming Kowalczyk, 27, said after winning her first Olympic gold medal, and Poland's second ever at the Winter Games.
"I was fighting and I don't even remember the last 200 metres. But this is the Olympics and you must fight. It feels good to be number one."
With the flag-waving Polish fans cheering wildly in the stands, Kowalczyk fell to the snow in exhaustion after crossing the finish line and Bjoergen went over to her and tapped her on the back to make sure she was okay.
The Pole responded by grabbing Bjoergen's ankle in thanks before sitting up and pumping her fists with both poles in hand to celebrate.
Kowalczyk, who won Vancouver silver in the 1.4km sprint and bronze in the 15km pursuit, took early control of a gruelling 30km event raced in intermittent drizzle. She led Saarinen by 0.4 seconds at the midway point.
Bjoergen, who had been 2.8 seconds off the pace after 15 km, took over at the top with just five kilometres remaining but the Pole was perfectly placed in her slip stream and made her final move with perfect timing.
"Today Kowalczyk was stronger in the end," said the 29-year-old Bjoergen, who had struck gold in the 15km pursuit, the individual sprint classic and 4x5km relay.
"I knew it was going to be tough out there but to go home with five medals feels great," added the Norwegian, who also won bronze in the 10km freestyle.
"It's going to take a while to understand what I have done during these Olympics. When I go home and see the Norwegian people, and watch the races on television, then maybe I can understand how big this is."
Factbox on Kowalczyk:
Place of birth: Limanowa, Poland.
Residence: Kasina Wielka, Poland.
Previous major Olympic results:
Silver, 2010 Winter Olympics, individual sprint classic
Bronze, 2010 Winter Olympics, 15km pursuit
Bronze, 2006 Winter Olympics, 30km mass start
2x Gold, 2009 World Championships, 15km pursuit and 30km mass start
Bronze, 2009 World Championships, 10km
Champion, 2008/09 World Cup, overall
Champion, 2008/09 World Cup, distance
Kowalczyk started the sport in 1993. She leads this season's World Cup overall and World Cup distance standings.
The 30km Olympic gold was her third medal of the Vancouver Games having won silver in the individual sprint and bronze in the 15km pursuit.
In January 2005, she tested positive for a banned substance and received a two-year ban. After successfully proving the drug was used a painkiller it was reduced to a year and later shortened further by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
She was able to return to compete in December 2005.
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