ROSA KHUTOR, Russia Feb 8 Justyna Kowalczyk, one of the pre-race favourites, lost all hope of a podium finish in Saturday's Olympic skiathlon following a fall during a mix-up at the pit stop.
In the skiathlon event, female cross-country skiers cover 7.5 km in classic style before switching skis and poles for another 7.5 km in freestyle.
In classic style, they use loose boots and traditional armpit length poles. For the freestyle, they use stiff boots and poles that can be about chin-high.
Kowalczyk was in the running for a podium finish at the halfway mark but got her skis mixed up and fell, losing a handful of seconds and never recovering.
"I was too close to (Finn Aino-Kasia) Saarinen's skis," the 31-year-old Pole explained.
"Of course I lost 3-4 seconds due to my fall, which is a lot and it affected my result because there was a big group in front of me - five people.
"The distance was too big for me to be able to catch the group."
Kowalczyk gradually lost ground and finished a distant sixth, 56.1 seconds behind gold medallist Marit Bjoergen of Norway.
"I don't feel sad. I just kept on fighting," the 30km classic Olympic champion.
Kowalzcyk now hopes an injury she sustained to her left foot two days ago will not affect her chances in other events.
"I have really strong medicine, so I don't feel pain for three hours," she explained.
"In the race I didn't feel anything." (Editing by Julien Pretot and Ed Osmond)