Classy Kowalczyk takes pole position on podium in women’s 10km
Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland claimed gold in the women's the 10km classic style, obliterating the field to end a sequence of victories for Norwegian athletes.
Kowalczyk more than justified her status as favourite in the gruelling time trial event, finishing the race in 28 minutes 17.8 seconds, a colossal 18.4 seconds ahead of her nearest rival Charlotte Kalla of Sweden who took silver. Therese Johaug of Norway took the bronze in 28 minutes 46.1 seconds.
Kowalczyk made light weather of the taxing conditions, adding to the gold she won in the 30km mass start at Vancouver 2010.
In doing so she becomes Poland’s most successful ever Winter Olympian, surpassing ski jump legend Adam Malysz, by taking her overall medal count to five.
The triumphant Pole, who had heroically shrugged off an ankle injury to produce her best performance, broke down in tears in the finish area.
“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.
The tough undulating course and tricky conditions were made for Kowalczyk, who is famed for her astonishing stamina and mental strength, which compensate for the fact that she is not the most technically accomplished of the skiers.
“I broke my foot two weeks ago. I was fighting with myself with this injury,” she explained.
Kowalcyzk had not seemed at her best in the skiathlon and had dropped out of the sprints in order to concentrate on the 10km classic, which is widely regarded as her best event.
"It helped a lot. It was good to focus on one race," said Kowalczyk.
Her victory has made Sochi 2014 Poland's most successful ever Winter Games, following the victory of Kamil Stoch in the men’s normal hill ski jump, meaning they have claimed more than one gold for the first time.
Kowalczyk's great rival, Marit Bjørgen of Norway, had an off day by her own high standards, finishing in fifth place and over half a minute behind the Pole.