Slovenian skier injured in fall, manages bronze

Petra Majdic from Slovenia is assisted from the finish liine after competing in the ladies' individual sprint classic event at Whistler Olympic Park on Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games in Whistler, B.C. Majdic, a strong medal contender, crashed during her warmup and did not qualify. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

WHISTLER, B.C. - Slovenian cross-country skiing star Petra Majdic managed to ski through intense pain to a bronze medal Wednesday, after nearly breaking her ribs in a tumble down a three-metre embankment during training.

The superstar of women's sprint skiing fell off the icy corner during the warmup, prompting a gasp from the crowd after she emerged clutching her side and wincing.

Slovenian team officials criticized the 180-degree turn, saying it wasn't safe.

Branislav Dmitrovic, a spokesman for the Slovenian team, said the corner is "very fast and dangerous."

"Not to accuse anyone (but) the circumstances on the course are completely different from the past days," said Dmitrovic, comparing it to the soft snow and moist conditions from earlier in the week.

Madjic also said the corner caught her off guard.

"It was a really icy curve and not secured," she said after taking the bronze.

Dmitrovic said he felt the embankment on the corner should have been built up and barriers added to reduce the risk of people falling off the edge.

Despite her injury, Majdic raced through two more rounds in the women's 1.4-kilometre sprint after learning her ribs weren't broken.

Majdic said later that she thought of quitting as she lay at the bottom of the embankment, and the pain started shooting through her body.

But she said she decided to keep going, knowing it was a rare chance for a medal for her small Balkan country, formerly part of Yugoslavia.

"You are coming from Slovenia and nobody (has) won a medal before and you know that your shape is fantastic and you know you will never get another chance," she said.

"After the second qualification I was screaming the whole way, and it was the first time I heard all of the coaches from all of the nations cheering for me."

Matej Tusak, a Slovenian sports psychologist, told the racer to ignore the pain.

"I said to her 'You have 25 years of training, you can do this. You have to do this for yourself. If you do this, you will just have to hear your heartbeat and feel your arms and legs, then you can do it,' " he said.

He said that after the injury, "she (Majdic) was not able to sit, stand, not able to do anything for the first 15 minutes. She was laying down only."

Originally scheduled to depart third, Majdic was allowed to start last in the qualifying sprint, where racers depart in intervals.

Visibly in pain, she managed to race the woman's classic race and qualified 19th, just behind Canadian Chandra Crawford, who qualified 18th. She then managed to win a quarter-final and to squeak through a semi-final.

In the final, she couldn't catch Norwegian Marit Bjoergen and Polish skier Justyna Kowalcyzk in the final 200 metres.

Exhausted at the end, the Slovenian was helped off the course by medics.

Majdic said it is unlikely she will be able to ski in the woman's 15-kilometre pursuit scheduled for Friday.

Sara Renner, a veteran Canadian skier who failed to qualify for the quarter finals, said Majdic hit "a very icy corner."

"Petra is really tall and so she has a lot of distance to fall," she said.

Majdic currently ranks second in the World Cup standings, and has been dominant in sprinting on the international circuit.