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Tora Berger aims for 1st gold in Olympic biathlon

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 13, 2014 at 5:00 pm •  Published: February 13, 2014

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Tora Berger of Norway is after her first gold medal at the Sochi Olympics when women's biathlon continues with the 15-kilometer individual race on Friday.

Berger won the event in Vancouver four years ago and took back-to-back world titles in the discipline in 2012-13.

Other favorites include Gabriela Soukalova of the Czech Republic, Olympic pursuit champion Darya Domracheva of Belarus, and Andrea Henkel of Germany, who won gold at the Salt Lake City Games 12 years ago.

Here are five things to know about Friday's 15K individual race.

BERGER'S NEXT STEP: After finishing a disappointing 10th in Sunday's sprint, Tora Berger vastly improved to take silver in the pursuit two days later. Now the Norwegian standout wants to take the next step. If Berger successfully defends her 2010 Olympic title, she will be the second biathlete to do so at the Sochi Games after Anastasiya Kuzmina of Slovakia repeated her sprint victory from Vancouver.

SHOOTING IS KEY: More than in any other biathlon discipline, shooting is the key to success in an individual race. Only in this format, athletes don't ski an extra 150-meter loop for each missed target but get a one-minute penalty added to their finishing time. That makes missing about twice as costly as in other events. You can't win an individual race at the shooting range, but you can lose it there.

SOUKALOVA TO SHINE? Gabriela Soukalova has already secured the World Cup individual title after winning both races in the discipline this season. It puts the Czech athlete right into the favorites' circle for the Olympic title. If Soukalova can get to the podium, it would be her country's first ever Olympic medal in women's biathlon. Her male compatriot Ondrej Moravec has showed how to do it by taking silver in the men's pursuit Monday.

FRESH START: The individual race offers the chance for a fresh start to all who haven't done well in the two previous events. The sprint and the pursuit were closely linked as the results from the first competition determined the start order and intervals of the second. So a bad sprint could also ruin your pursuit. However, there are no such disadvantages from previous races in an individual event.

RUSSIAN WORRIES: After Irina Starykh withdrew from the Olympics for a failed doping test and sprint silver medalist Olga Vilukhina pulled out of the race because of illness, Russia is left without its two main medal hopes Friday. Competing in her fourth Olympics, Olga Zaitseva strives to fill the gap. The 35-year-old Zaitseva missed out on a medal at last year's world championships but finished fourth in three different disciplines, and fifth in the individual race.