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Marit Bjoergen beats Poland's Justyna Kowalczyk to win 30K classic and 12th world title

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VAL DI FIEMME, Italy - Marit Bjoergen secured her 12th world title on Saturday by beating Olympic champion Justyna Kowalczyk in a sprint finish to win the 30-kilometre classical event at the Nordic skiing world championships.

Bjoergen, who won three Olympic golds in Vancouver and has dominated these championships as well, sped past Kowalczyk with 200 metres to go to win in 1 hour, 27 minutes, 19.9 seconds. Kowalczyk, who beat Bjoergen in an even tighter sprint to win the 30K race in Vancouver, was 3.7 seconds behind.

"I'm really happy, I really wanted this gold medal in this race," Bjoergen said. "It was not that good conditions today, it was warmer so it was really tough and not so easy to be in front.

"I tried to attack in the last climb and I knew I had to be at least second in the downhill and then attack in the last meters. And I did a good attack, I was using the speed behind her and managed to pass her."

Therese Johaug, who won the 10K freestyle on Tuesday, was third, 8.7 seconds behind her Norwegian compatriot.

"They were much stronger than me in the last hill and I won the bronze medal," Johaug said. "I must go home and train on that final hill for Sochi.

"This world championships has been a dream for me, I leave with one gold, one silver, one bronze (individually) as well as the gold of the relay. I could never have dreamed of that before and I'm so happy."

It was Bjoergen's first major title in a 30K-race in eight years.

"It makes the win even more special,"Bjoergen said. "I lost in Vancouver, so this year I really wanted the gold in the 30K. My teammates knew this was one of my biggest goals this season so they're really happy for me."

The trio skied alone up front for much of the race and their nearest competitor, Heidi Weng, finished 1:38.3 behind.

It was Bjoergen's fourth gold medal in Val di Fiemme, putting her two victories away from matching Yelena Velbe's record of 14 world championship titles.

Bjoergen, Kowalczyk and Johaug were the favourites and they pulled away early in the race along with Weng and Nicole Fessel of Germany.

Fessel and Weng dropped off with more than a third of the race to go, leaving the remaining three to battle for the medals.

Bjoergen lost time when she struggled with a ski change, but she swiftly caught up to her rivals.

Fully aware of Bjoergen's sprinting skills, Kowalczyk tried to attack on the penultimate hill, but her rivals increased their pace too.

Kowalczyk and Bjoergen pulled clear on the final climb to battle out for gold, leaving Johaug behind.

"It was a really good day for me," Kowalczyk said. "I was skiing really good. I'm maybe not so satisfied, but I'm tired, and this is the most important thing. I tried but today the Norwegians skied really good."

Norway tops the medal table with 19, including eight golds. The women have won 10 of those medals.

"We've taken so many medals and we haven't had a chance to celebrate so tonight is going to be a big party," Bjoergen said.

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