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Being a gracious winner and a good loser is hardly a unique concept in sport, and fortunately in skiing the concept is more often than not practiced.

And when you take home $366,250 in prize money for the 2010 season and have an overall World Cup title, four Olympic medals, three World Championship medals, and 13 World Cup victories, one would expect that winning and losing with grace should not be too hard a challenge.

But Justyna Kowalczyk (POL), one of the greatest Polish sports stars of all time has, for some strange reason, chosen to crusade against Marit Bjoergen’s use of asthma medication, protested a clear disqualification for obstruction, and been relegated for skating in a classic sprint.

She has gained a reputation as a dirty skier on the World Cup, and instead of letting her results speak for themselves, has stooped to the level of attacking her opposition.

With each incident, Kowalczyk loses face in the public eye. She should keep her mouth shut and worry about skiing faster.

And her move on Kikkan Randall in the sprint final in Davos stank of desperation. Kowalczyk does not have the speed to close out a sprint race, and is clearly not at the Bjoergen-esque level of being able to ski away in 1.4km race.

FasterSkier had the opportunity to speak with Kowalczyk in Canmore last year, and she was accommodating and friendly. At Olympic press conferences, she was always complimentary of those who defeated her, and when asked if the minutes spent waiting for the results of a photo finish “were the worst of her life,” she laughed and made some comment about it “just being skiing” – impressive perspective for a professional athletes.

All of this makes her recent behavior even more inexplicable. There seems so little to gain, and she has already lost quite a bit. As one of the great skiers of her generation, it does not behoove her to act in such an immature manner.

She should take a page out of Pete Vordenberg’s book and only worry about the things she can control – not Bjoergen’s inhaler.

And when disqualified for a blatant case of obstruction, she should take her punishment and move on. The “this will not stand” attitude from the Kowalczyk camp is less than impressive.

I feel confident that had an American or Canadian similarly stepped in front of an opponent in the finish stretch, because they knew they couldn’t win otherwise, coaches, athletes and fans would be embarrassed, and most definitely not supportive.

Kowalczyk is an incredible athlete and an amazing skier. Along with several other women, she has brought great excitement to the sport, weekend after weekend, and her dedication is impressive.

Hopefully she can go back to making headlines with her racing and hold her line on the way to the finish.

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18 Responses to “Kowalczyk Should Shape up Act”

  1. Benjamin Kramer Says:

    I wonder if Kowalczyk can read english, or if FasterSkier has a Polish version… I imagine there will be a small explosion in Poland when a certain someone get’s wind of this. Awesome editorial.

  2. Jack Cormier Says:

    She is desperate for points. Bjoergen is certainly not my favorite skier, but Kowalzcyk needs some smelling salt right now. A person of her caliber, smarts, and knowledge of the sport (having studied physiology at a sports university, if I am not mistaken) should be reacting a bit differently. She should take note of Alexey Petukhov’s interview after the Davos sprint race and look at the great sportsmanship the men’s finalists displayed at the finish area. That’s the problem with star athletes that think they are above the sport. Unfortunately I’ve seen this on many occasions in various sports.

  3. John Franklin Says:

    Sudden changes in psychology and behavior are often traced to chemical changes in the brain. Maybe she’s not eating right.

  4. Highstream Says:

    A couple points in partial defense of Kowalczyk:

    1) While her provocative comments about asthma drugs have so far not helped her tactically, are there really studies that show the effects of asthma drugs on performance are negligible? On the face of it, the need for an asthma inhaler suggests the performance gain is substantial, if not absolute – participate vs. not – however ostensibly justified the claim is on medical grounds.

    2) There’s no doubt Kowalczyk made a sharp move to cut off Randall in the sprint, but the matter appears a bit more complicated than that. Kowalczyk was ahead of Randall entering the finish area, but was over by the lane markers, meaning to hold a straight line she would have had to ski over them the rest of the way. Is that required? (I assume the markers are those little plastic feathery pieces, not just a line in the snow). Since the lanes were relatively wide, but not wide enough for two skiers side by side, *any* move to the right to ski entirely in the lane would have cut off Randall. I’m not sure what the rules, or rule interpretations, are for this but it sure seems like a built-in conflict.

  5. Highstream Says:

    I take 2) back. On another look, Kowalczyk approached the finish area more in the center lane and cut over to the right one, though she didn’t have to, since Petra Majdic was behind her. Clearly worth the reprimand for gratuitously trying to muscle out an opponent.

  6. Fastdon'tlie Says:

    Boy, you guys are a bunch of homers, aren’t you!? Who says she has gained a reputation of being a dirty skier? Did you specifically talk to any skiers on the WC beside Kikkan? Have you raced against her? Or are your emotions getting the best of you? Had this happened to someone else, would you have the same reaction?

  7. Rick Halling Says:

    I am certainly not going to attempt to justify Justyna’s remarks concerning Bjoergen’s inhaler or her move at the Davos sprint. However, let’s not put her on the same level as Mike Tyson after he bit Evander Holyfield’s ear. Relative to the world of sports, she really has not done anything that bad. I have been at venues where she has been present and it was just like your description above,”she was accommodating and friendly.” I feel some obligation to defend anyone who has been that nice and polite to me.

  8. Todd Eastman Says:

    The inhaler deal probably involves some old bad blood between Bjoergen and Kowalczyk, but the sprint deal shouldn’t be overblown. If you want sprints, you will get these types of tactics. Give them helmets and pads and let it rip…

    Racing in Europe is fun because it is combative compared to here in NA.

  9. Tim Kelley Says:

    I think it’s good that a high profile athlete is outspoken on asthma drugs. Skiing is hypocritical for allowing the use of these drugs. If your legs can’t take running 26 miles of pavement, you shouldn’t be a marathon runner. If you body can’t withstand hits from a 350 lb linebacker, you shouldn’t be a football player. If your lungs can’t take the demands of xc skiing, you shouldn’t be a cross country skier. If drugs allow you to do something you normally couldn’t do – that’s doping, whether it is legal or not.

    As for her behaviour – if it goes on for a long time, then it is an issue to rail on her about. But she is a human in a high stress sport. Maybe realize that, chill out a bit and cut her some slack … unless she makes desperate tactics an ongoing habit.

  10. Jen Mygatt Says:

    Tim, Respectfully, I think your medication argument is flawed. Under it, Kris Freeman should not be allowed to use his insulin either. Thoughts?
    There are drugs to correct illness or pathophysiological process, and there are drugs to lift an athlete up above normal physiological function. I’d argue there is a crucial distinction between the two. Asthma is a legit illness, and uncontrolled, can lead to permanent changes in the lungs. I don’t know the specifics of Bjoergen’s asthma med use, but if she truly has asthma, her use of those meds is fair game.
    As for Kowalczyk, I think she dug herself a bit of a hole with the appeal. If it were just her move to cut off Randall, then we say, “Oops, skiing can get a little hairy in there,” but her indignation at the consequences is unimpressive.

    Jen

  11. sut randall Says:

    Inhaler-gate continues ad nauseum. Kowalczyk is correct to state her disapproval of world cup competitors using inhalers. I think Fasterskier in the past has investigated the use of inhalers on the world cup tour. How many athletes use inhalers? Does WADA test such athletes regularly? I am sure they are but does WADA investigate evidence of medical need? Are there any qualitative evidence based medical parameters such as lung capacity tests results used by WADA to confirm medical need? It would be nice to have this information in your article. As for Kowalczyk’s lapse in judgement involving Randall, get over it. Sprint racing is an aggressive tactical sport. Finally, Kowalczyk is an exciting addition to the “ho hum” parade of “Nordic” countries that dominate this sport. It is really refreshing and impressive to see a xc ski racer from Poland. Given Poland’s extraordinary history, Kowalczyk certainly rises well above the crowd. She is an exciting and much needed addition to the sport.

  12. Jim Galanes Says:

    This Editorial appears to be an over-reaction to a questionable infraction against a US skier.

    First, it appears that it is Faster Skiers’ opinion that just because Justyna Kowalczyk makes in excess of 300 K that somehow that should make it easier to be a gracious winner and a good looser. Money is not a bench mark for behavior. Look at the many professional athletes in American sports that make many times more than 300 K, yet their behaviors hardly maintain high ethical standards.

    Second, Kowalczyk dared to question Bjoergens use of an inhaler for asthma and filed a protest on a questionable determination by the jury in the Davos sprint race. This is bad? Anyone who follows the sport recognizes that the use of asthma inhalers is widespread and controversial at best. Imagine accusing a Norwegian of doping! Regarding the protest, would Faster Skier have felt the same way if the Kowalczyk had not been relegated and the USST filed a protest on Randall’s behalf.

    It seems to me that Faster Skier has formed this negative opinion based on a USST press release, the money, the so called crusade against Bjoergen, and a protest, all which contradicts their prevision experience with Justyna Kowalczyk in Canmore last year. In such this is nothing more than an emotional reaction to aggressive racing against a US skier. This highlighted behavior and a quote from one skier makes Justyna Kowalczyk a “dirty skier”.

    I have looked at the Eurosport video of the incident several times, as I am sure Faster Skier has. I was not there nor was Faster Skier. So I assume we are all using the same inadequate information to form our opinions. From my perspective it appears that Kowalczyk , following Bjoergen was ahead of Randall and 5-10 meters before the start of the lanes she began moving to the right to an open lane. As I read the rules this appears to be a legitimate move. Was this a blatant obstruction as Faster Skier labels it. I don’t see it that way but obviously the jury who was there did, aggressive perhaps, but that is how one wins. With livelihoods and money on the line that is what we expect, and I bet that is what the TV producers want to see. In my view this is “just skiing” as Faster Skier had quoted her saying in Canmore!

    Should Justyna Kowalczyk been relegated? I don’t know, I was not there, but that was the opinion of the Jury that should be respected. What I do know, is that it is not as clear cut obstruction in my mind as seems to be the popular opinion on Faster Skier; likewise, I think we should respect Justyna Kowalczyk right to protest. Perhaps Faster Skier would be surprised at how many protest are filed each season?

    It would informative to see from the jury or the FIS is an explanation of the rules and their interpretation in this case. Perhaps Faster Skier could spend some time research that. I am sure there are lots of thing to “Shape Up” in this sport, just not sure that Faster Skier is on the right track with this one!

  13. Michael Meissner Says:

    How quickly we tend to want to de-fame the great ones, as though they weren’t that good to start with. Justyna, so has much more to be proud of and supported for than anyone can point to her than having crossed over the line. Unless I’m missing something here, isn’t the whole idea to ski as close to that edge, all of thosee edges, all the time in a race? That being said, remember that’s not easy for any elite athlete. Sprints are real scrappy and the nice guys will likely finish last!

  14. FasterSkier Says:

    Jim, you can certainly have the opinion that Kowalczyk may not have obstructed Randall. The Jury did think otherwise.

    Regardless, saying that the opinion was formed based on USSA press releases is completely false. FasterSkier talked to Kikkan Randall, USST head Coach Chris Grover, and FIS Nordic Head Jurg Capol, among others.

    Again, you can disagree with the conclusions, but please give us a little more credit on our background work.

  15. Jim Galanes Says:

    Good job then on the background work, I am sorry of for mischarecterizing that.

    My opinion is not that there was no obstruction but that in my perception and reading the rules it did not appear that way to me.(the jury and most comments on Faster skier see it otherwise)…Thus your charecterizing her as a dirty skier were unreasonable based on this incident! While I respect the decision of the jury, I can see the issue as being far from clear and a protest as a reasonable course of action rather than being criticized for not taking her punishment.

  16. Fastdon'tlie Says:

    I am just wondering who those skiers/coaches on the WC circuit are that called Kowalzcyk a ‘dirty’ skier. Obviously you don’t have to answer that, but it is something that’s very intresting to me. I have a hard time seeing or hearing Kikkan saying someone is dirty and doesn’t play by the rules. One incident, although fairly important, doesn’t justify your claim, and I wonder if the outcry would be as big had it been another skier JK obstructed. I’ve seen incidents that were a lot worse at both the WC and OPA cup levels and nothing was done in the end, no dq’s or relegations.

  17. FasterSkier Says:

    My point here is not to rip on Justyna – that is why I pointed out how she acted in person – and others support that. The asthma stuff seems very out of character, and that is why it is noteworthy.

    I believe professional athletes (among others) should carry themselves in a professional way, and have the most respect for those who go about their business, and not engage in sniping in the press and the like.

    Because Justyna has carried herself well in many other respects, it would be nice to see her drop the controversial stuff and stick to racing fast.

    In terms of the sprint, there was consensus form a variety of sources that the move was “dirty.” Is that absolute – by no means – and it is quite possible that it was an instinctive move, and nothing intentional – just trying to get to the line.

    But that shouldn’t give her a free pass, and again, it would be nice to see her in the headlines solely for her racing.

    I agree with Jim that if the situation is unclear, an appeal can be reasonable.

    She did protest immediately following the ruling, but the Jury rejected that. I guess I just disagree there was much grey area, and given the response of Jurg Capol immediately following the race, it appears officials felt similarly.

    But there is an appeals process for a reason, and you are correct in saying that if the Polish team felt the punishment was unwarranted, an appeal is appropriate, and due process should not be condemned.

  18. Strider Says:

    I’m surprised at all the people that are supporting Kowalzcyk here. If you watch the Eurosport video of the final, Kowalzcyk clearly goes out of the way to obstruct Randall. There was simply no other reason for her to move to the right, she lost time doing it, but thought she gained a place. This move was nothing less than “dirty”. I don’t understand why some people on here are so adamant about defending her, you probably haven’t watched the video.

    In additon, I find it sad that someone with questionable technique can do so well in the sport. It is reminiscent of how the East German women dominated athletics for so many years. She is not a great role model for people that want to learn to ski fast. Watching her take the corners in the heats was pretty embarrassing… not WC level.

    Finally, the asthma “controversy” is totally out of line, and smells like desperation. In no way do inhalers enhance your performance, that is plain ridiculous. Kalla made a good analogy; Kowalzcyk’s argument is like saying people with bad eyesight should not be allowed to wear glasses when they race.

    I totally agree with all your points above FasterSkier. Pretty shallow of some people to question FS’s background info when they do such a good job reporting on WC.