WHISTLER (Reuters) - Petra Majdic won a Winter Olympics cross country bronze but deserved a special medal for extraordinary valor after conquering an excruciating injury over three races before painfully climbing to the podium.
“Today I won not only a bronze medal for myself, this is a gold with little diamonds on it,” Majdic told reporters. “I won a medal just getting to the start line.”
The Slovenian, one of the pre-race favorites, plunged down a hill in practice but went on to struggle through two qualifying rounds and then finish third in the women’s 1.4 km cross country sprint.
Majdic had hit a patch of ice on a corner and slid off the course during a warmup run earlier in the day.
“There was a big hole. I fell three meters. I fell on rocks. I broke one ski and both poles. I was screaming,” she told a news conference, continuously wincing in pain.
“I was thinking, ‘It’s over,’” she said. “I thought it was over because I couldn’t normally breathe or walk, or move.”
The 30-year-old needed emergency medical attention for badly bruised back muscles and broken skin. Then she was told she should go to hospital.
“A part of me was screaming, ‘I want to go to the start.’ I didn’t want to hear that I was finished,” she said.
Majdic pushed herself through the pain barrier in the quarter-final and semi-final but ran out of stamina in the gold medal event, collapsing in a curled heap once she had captured Slovenia’s first ever medal in cross-country.
The heroic achievement, and Majdic’s clear state of agony afterward, overshadowed the gold medal-winning performance of Norway’s Marit Bjoergen.
Only after the final did Majdic agree to go to hospital, where an ultrasound exam revealed scrapes on her back, “a big punch on the muscles” but no broken bones.
Majdic, who walked gingerly into the post-race news conference with the help of an official, said it was unlikely she would race in Friday’s 15km pursuit.
“I will try to focus myself for the 30km (on Feb 27). It’s the only chance. All of the other races, no, they’re gone because it’s too painful,” she said.
Bjoergen’s gold was the first for Norway at the Vancouver Games and came as Norwegians were fretting about the lack of Olympic success. Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk came second.
The men’s sprint final was effectively settled by an accident, with Norwegian favorite Petter Northug finding it impossible to make up lost time after team mate Oeystein Pettersen collided with Kazakhstan’s Alexey Poltaranin.
“I had a good feeling and then on the first downhill when the Kazakh guy and Oeystein were falling I had to go away from them and I lost a lot of speed and I had to start on the hill again,” Northug said.
Earlier in the week he had come 41st in the men’s 15km freestyle race, a failure he blamed on problems with his skis.
Northug, who won bronze, lost out to Russian outsider Nikita Kriukov, who came from behind in the final strait to win in a photo finish from fellow Russian Alexander Panzhinskiy.
It was the first gold medal for Russia, which has also struggled to repeat successes at past Winter Games.
Additional reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Jon Bramley