Norway looks to dominate biathlon events in Sochi

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 23, 2014 at 8:54 am •  Published: January 23, 2014
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Starting in his sixth Olympics, veteran Ole Einar Bjoerndalen aims to help Norway top the biathlon medals table at Sochi again, just like four years ago.

Germany and Russia are likely to become the Scandinavians' toughest opponents over the 11 events, which includes a mixed competition for the first time.

The three nations have dominated Olympic biathlon by winning 46 of the 64 events since the sport made its debut at the 1960 Winter Games in Squaw Valley.

A record quadruple gold medalist in 2002, Bjoerndalen is the most decorated biathlete at major championships. After struggling for a couple of seasons, the 39-year-old Norwegian surged back to form in recent pre-Olympic events.

For the relay competition, Bjoerndalen will team up with the likes of Emil Hegle Svendsen, who has won four World Cup events so far this season — a feat only matched by Martin Fourcade of France.

On the women's side, Norway's hopes are boosted by the dominance of overall World Cup champion Tora Berger, who won the Olympic individual race four years ago and has since added eight world titles, including four in team events.

By contrast, the United States are hoping to pick up its first ever medal in the sport, which combines cross-country skiing with rifle shooting.

Here are five things to know about biathlon at the Sochi Olympics.

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LAST SHOT FOR GLORY

Once nicknamed "The Cannibal" because of his unstoppable hunger for titles, Ole Einar Bjoerndalen is still eager to extend his collection of silverware. The Norwegian has won 50 medals at major biathlon championships — including six golds and 11 in total at the Olympics. Bjoerndalen will turn 40 before the Sochi Games — his last Olympics, by his own account — but said in a recent interview that "I don't feel old."

In Vancouver four years ago, Bjoerndalen missed out on an individual medal. That, however, could be different in Sochi.

"I had two, three bad winters," Bjoerndalen said. "But this year I am enjoying it again as I am able to attack. ... For me, only the first place counts, you can forget the rest. That's the way it is in sports."

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HOME ADVANTAGE

One of the most popular winter sports in Russia, biathlon might give the home fans plenty to cheer about. The events are staged in the 7,500-capacity Laura Biathlon & Ski Complex. Since 1960, the Soviet Union and Russia have combined won a leading 18 Olympic gold medals. Olga Zaitseva, part of the winning relay teams in 2006 and 2010, leads the women's squad, while on the men's side Anton Shipulin is regarded a main medal contender alongside 2010 mass start champion Evgeny Ustyugov.

The Russian biathlon federation's target is winning two events in Sochi, according to president Mikhail Prokhorov during this week's team presentation. "The plan we voiced two years ago - two gold medals - stays in force," Prokhorov said. "If we get more than two medals then it will be a little heroic act."