Poland’s All-Time Greatest Athletes- Justyna Kowalczyk


A sport that tends to not get the broadcasting attention of the masses is Cross Country Skiing. Poland have produced a number of winter Olympians and cross country skier Justyna Kowalczyk is one of them.

Skiing from a young age

Kowalczyk was born in Limanowa, Poland (which is incidentally the village my father was born). She took up skiing at the age of 10 and fell in love with the sport straight away. She competed in her first official FIS World Cup race in 2001.

In 2002, she finished second in the individual sprint at the World Junior Championships and she finished 31st in the individual sprint event at the 2003 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships.

Suspension in 2005

At the World Championships in 2005, Kowalczyk competed in the Championship but was ultimately disqualified for the use of dexamethasone at the Under23 (U23) OPA (Alpine Nations) Intercontinental Cup competition in Oberstdorf, Germany at the start of the year.

Dexamethason is a substance that is allowed out of competition but prohibited in competition. It acts as an anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant. Kowalczyk used the substance to alleviate an Achilles tendon condition.

In June 2005, the FIS Doping Panel issued a two-year suspension (23 January 2005 – 22 January 2007) for Kowalczyk. In late June 2005 FIS determined that since dexamethasone was a glucocorticosteroid, it was classified as a specified substance on the World Anti-Doping Agency list of prohibited substances, and therefore the period of ineligibility for the first violation is at a maximum, one year’s ineligibility. The FIS Doping Panel, therefore, reduced the suspension to one year.

Kowalczyk then appealed the decision further and the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) decided that Kowalczyk did not use the drug to enhance her performances and decided the ban would stop from the day of the hearing which was in December 2005.

Olympic Games success

She has participated in four Winter Olympic games with her first being in 2006 after the dexamethasone scandal she was involved in.

The first medal for her came in the 30km mass start as she stepped onto the podium in third place gaining a medal for Poland and for herself.

The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics were the best for Kowalczyk and her cross country skiing career. She took part in five out of the six events and claimed gold, silver and bronze in three events. She smashed the 30km mass start, she narrowly lost in the sprint to eventual winner Marit Bjorgen and had a good effort in the 15km skiathlon.

In 2014, she got gold for the 10km individual beating second-place Charlotte Kalla by over 18 seconds. She has the most medals for a Polish winter Olympian with Kamil Stoch only one medal behind her.

World Cup Titles

Kowalczyk is an experienced cross country skier and has been at the top level from 2002-2018. With 50 individual wins under her belt, she has been a force to reckon with.

She has won four individual titles as a cross country skier and three in a row from 2009 to 2011 and then her final World Cup victory was in 2013 as she slowly backs away from the sport.

Having started over 300 individual races and being on the podium over 100 times, this meant that on average she would be on the podium once every three races in her long career that has seen her put 100% for 16 long grueling years.

She is also the only skier to win the Tour de Ski four times in a row and one of two female skiers, who won the FIS Cross-Country World Cup three times in a row (the other one being Finn Marjo Matikainen). Kowalczyk holds the all-time record for the most wins in Tour de Ski with 14 competitions won and 29 podiums in total. She also won the Vasaloppet women’s edition in 2015.


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EFL/EPL and F1 writer. @AdrianKitaMedia on Twitter for any comments regarding my pieces on Prost International.

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