KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — In cross-country skiing, correctly guessing the winner of a women's 10-kilometer classical style race is usually a 50-50 chance.
More often than not, it's either Marit Bjoergen of Norway or Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland. In fact, they've combined to win 10 of the last 11 races held in the discipline.
When they go head-to-head again in Sochi on Thursday, though, things aren't quite so simple.
For Kowalczyk, the 10K classical would normally be her best chance at a gold medal, with only Bjoergen able to seriously challenge her. But the Pole has more than Bjoergen to worry about this time: she's skiing with a fractured foot.
Kowalczyk injured her left foot shortly before the Olympics and posted a photo of an X-ray on Facebook this week showing a small fracture. The team said it wouldn't stop her from competing, however, and few would rule her out of medal contention just yet — which says something about her usual dominance in the event. Unlike Bjoergen — who is a favorite in nearly every race she enters regardless of distance or style — Kowalczyk is more of a classical-style specialist. Of her 30 World Cup race wins, 11 have come in 10K classical events.
But her injury makes Bjoergen the main favorite, and the Norwegian is eager to make up for a mishap in the freestyle sprint on Tuesday, when she fell on the final straight and failed to make the final. Bjoergen won three golds in Vancouver four years ago, and added a fourth in the opening 15-kilometer skiathlon on Saturday.