- Associated Press - Thursday, February 6, 2014

SOCHI, Russia (AP) - A foot injury could keep four-time Olympic medalist Justyna Kowalczyk from challenging Norway’s dominance in the women’s cross-country skiing events in Sochi.

Kowalczyk is one of Poland’s best gold-medal hopes, and one of the few non-Norwegians considered to be a big threat to triple Olympic champion Marit Bjoergen. But she injured her left foot last month and posted a photo of her swollen and bruised ankle on Facebook a week ago. Since then, Kowalczyk has declined to discuss her injury publicly, leaving her rivals guessing whether she’ll be fully fit for Saturday’s opening 15-kilometer skiathlon.

“End of discussion about my foot, please,” Kowalczyk said in her latest Facebook post, having deflected questions from both Polish and Norwegian journalists after her training session in Sochi on Wednesday. She posted a photo from that session of her skiing past the Olympic rings by the course.

“The five Olympic rings are an obligation,” she said. “This is what (we) need to concentrate on.”

A fit Kowalczyk would be a medal contender in the skiathlon, which mixes her favorite classical style with freestyle skiing. But Bjoergen, who led a Norwegian sweep of the podium in the event at last year’s world championships, is again the big favorite.

Kowalczyk’s best event is next Thursday’s 10-kilometer classical race, which could be the biggest duel between her and Bjoergen. In Vancouver four years ago, Bjoergen came away with three golds and five medals overall, with Kowalczyk taking one gold, one silver and one bronze. She had a previous bronze from the 2006 Turin Games.

Bjoergen said she still expects Kowalczyk to ski fast, and isn’t focusing on her rival’s fitness.

“I’m not writing her off ahead of time,” Bjoergen said at a news conference Thursday.

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