Olympic Athletes >> Justyna Kowalczyk

Cross Country

Justyna Kowalczyk



Date of Birth

Jan. 23, 1983


Although Poland has competed in cross country since the Winter Olympics began in 1924, Kowalczyk is the only Polish athlete to win a medal. She started skiing at age 10 and was competing internationally in 2000. Kowalczyks first major medal was the silver in the sprint at the 2003 junior world championships. She participated in the 2005 World Championships, but was subsequently disqualified from that and other events for taking a substance called dexamethasone at an earlier competition. Kowalczyk appealed, arguing that she used the substance for an Achilles tendon condition and had not intended to enhance her performance. An initial two-year suspension was reduced to one year, then the Court of Arbitration for Sport ended the ban on Dec. 8, 2005, the day of the hearing. Three weeks after returning to competition, Kowalczyk won her first World Cup medal, a bronze in the 10-kilometer race at Otepaeae, Estonia. After winning the bronze in the 2006 Olympics at 30 kilometers, Kowalczyk won a gold, silver and bronze in 2010 in Vancouver. She defeated arch-rival Marit Bjoergen in the 30-kilometer, but lost to the Norwegian in two other events and claimed Bjoergen got a boost from her asthma medication.


The first Polish cross country skier to win the World Cup title, Kowalczyk won three straight from 2009-11, then clinched her fourth crystal globe in March 2013. By the end of the 2013 calendar year, she had earned 29 World Cup victories and 62 podiums in 185 individual World Cup starts since 2001. Kowalczyk began the 2013-14 campaign by winning two World Cup stage wins in Kuusamo, Finland, then captured the 10-kilometer classic gold in Lillehammer, Norway. In Davos, Switzerland, she managed to finish only 25th and 11th in her two events, then captured another World Cup gold in Asiago, Italy, in the sprint. Though Kowalczyk is the only skier to win the prestigious Tour de Ski four straight times and has posted a record 14 stage wins, she withdrew from the 2013 event in protest. After mild and rainy weather forced organizers to shorten the course and change the format of the competition, Kowalczyk said it was unfair to have five freestyle and only two classical races in the seven-stage event. "The changed program doesn't fit into my Olympic preparations," said Kowalczyk, a classical style specialist.


Kowalczyk is expected to duel Bjoergen for the gold across the board in Sochi, with Kowalczyk especially strong in the classical style events.

Things To Know

  • According to the international ski federation, her real date of birth is Jan. 19, 1983, although all official documents say Jan. 23, 1983, so she "could celebrate twice a year."
  • Kowalczyk earned a Masters degree at the Academy of Physical Education in Katowice.
  • She was named Polish Sportsperson of the Year the last four years (2009-12), the longest streak in the history of the award.

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