Half a shoe

Vancouver Olympics
Justyna Kowalczyk at the finish line

Whistler, British Columbia. The Winter Olympic Games. The 15 kilometers ski race. A grueling fight among the best athletes in the field.

The finish line. A Pole, Justyna Kowalczyk, the number one in 2009 ranking, fights with a Norwegian, Kristin Stoermer Steira, for the third place.

Both, applying a classic finishing technique, crossing the line stuck out their shoes.

Justyna’s foot goes half a shoe further.

The photo finish grants her the bronze.

Kowalczyk is elated. Steira devastated.

Seconds after the photo finish grants her the win (not yet officially announced), Justyna is called to see the judges: there has been a formal motion submitted by the Norwegians that at one point during her race she applied an illegal skiing technique. The jurors consider disqualifying her. She defends her actions. The motion is rejected.

Before the Games Justyna is considered the favorite. Everybody expects her to wind gold medals. Yet, so up until now she's got only (!) a silver one. This could be her second medal of the games.

Justyna is the only athlete among the world top 6 who does not suffer asthma. Those who do take steroids, normally illegal. Steroids taken before a race increase the amount of air in the lungs - a huge bonus for a competitor.

Just before the official announcement of the results of the 15K race, a TV camera catches a glimpse of a never crying Justyna.

This time she does, waiting for the decision.

Finally it’s official, the bronze medal goes to her.

Half a shoe.

Every step of the way.

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