Ishida fifth in cross country event

Compiled From Kyodo, AP

Masako Ishida produced the best ever performance by a Japanese skier in an Olympic cross country event on Saturday when she finished fifth in the women’s 30-km classical event at the Vancouver Games.

Ishida clocked 1 hour 31 minutes, 56.5 seconds in the stamina-draining event at Whistler Olympic Park to finish 1:22.8 behind winner Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland.

“I did everything I could today and feel satisfied,” said Ishida.

Kowalczyk of Poland denied Marit Bjoergen a fourth gold medal of the Olympics, beating the Norwegian in a frantic final sprint.

Kowalczyk and Bjoergen were side by side down the final straight before the Norwegian lost her rhythm near the end and watched her rival glide first across the finish line.

After seeing Bjoergen above her on the podium twice in Vancouver, the 27-year-old Kowalczyk finally lived up to the massive expectations to win gold by pushing ahead a few meters before the finish line.

“It feels good to be No. 1,” Kowalczyk said. “I don’t even remember the last 200 meters. But this is the Olympics, you must fight.”

Kowalczyk, the World Cup leader who settled for a silver and bronze in previous races at the games, pumped both hands into the air before collapsing face first onto the snow as she gasped for air. She finished in 1 hour, 30 minutes, 33.7 seconds for her first Olympic gold.

Bjoergen was 0.3 seconds back to take the silver, and Aino-Kaisa Saarinen of Finland took the bronze, 1:05 back.

It was a fitting end to the women’s cross-country events at the Vancouver Olympics — Bjoergen and Kowalczyk fighting it out in a two-way battle between the sport’s two biggest stars.

Kowalczyk entered the games as the main gold-medal favorite, but it was Bjoergen who became the darling of the games.