MOSCOW, January 31 (R-Sport) – R-Sport presents an event-by-event glance at the Sochi 2014 Olympics, featuring the reigning champion and the hot favorites for each discipline.
Venue: Laura Biathlon and Ski Complex
All-time medal table top three: 1st Germany, 2nd Norway, 3rd Soviet Union
2010 medal table top three: 1st Norway, 2nd Germany, 3rd Russia
Men’s 10km sprint - February 8
Gold medalist in 2010: Vincent Jay (France).
Contenders: Martin Fourcade (France), Emil Hegle Svendsen (Norway), Simon Schempp (Germany), Ole Einar Bjorndalen (Norway)
As reigning World Cup champion in all men’s events, Fourcade is the leading contender in every men’s biathlon event, and won the only sprint event held to date on the Sochi Olympic track. He lost out to Svendsen at last year’s world championships, however.
Women’s 7.5km sprint - February 9
Gold medalist in 2010: Anastasia Kuzmina (Slovakia)
Contenders: Darya Domracheva (Belarus), Anastasia Kuzmina (Slovakia), Selina Gasparin (Switzerland), Kaisa Makarainen (Finland)
Domracheva is historically strong in the sprint but has struggled to find the same dominant form this season. Russian-born Kuzmina will be competing in front of her home crowd, albeit for her adoptive nation of Slovakia. Gasparin has surprised many with two World Cup sprint wins this season.
Men’s 12.5km pursuit - February 10
Gold medalist in 2010: Bjorn Ferry (Sweden)
Contenders: Martin Fourcade (France), Emil Hegle Svendsen (Norway), Jakov Fak (Slovenia), Anton Shipulin (Russia)
The winner of the sprint enjoys a sizeable advantage in the pursuit, starting first, meaning that much depends on the results of the day before. Organizers will be hoping there is no repeat of timing scandals that marred the men’s and women’s pursuits at Vancouver 2010.
Women’s 10km pursuit - February 11
Gold medalist in 2010: Magdalena Neuner (Germany)
Contenders: Darya Domracheva (Belarus), Tora Berger (Norway), Gabriela Soukalova (Czech Republic), Andrea Henkel (Germany)
In any pursuit, the results of the sprint are extremely important to athletes’ pursuit chances, although Domracheva has something of a reputation as a pursuit specialist. When Soukalova places well in the sprint, she tends to cope well under the pressure of leading the pursuit.
Men’s 20km individual - February 13
Gold medalist in 2010: Emile Hegle Svendsen (Norway)
Contenders: Emile Hegle Svendsen (Norway), Martin Fourcade (France), Jakov Fak (Slovenia), Tim Burke (United States)
Svendsen and Fourcade have usually dominated biathlon’s longest event in recent years, but Fak could spring a surprise, as he did when winning the 2012 world championship race. Long-distance specialist Burke is bidding to become the first ever U.S. Olympic biathlon medalist.
Women’s 15km individual - February 14
Gold medalist in 2010: Tora Berger (Norway)
Contenders: Tora Berger (Norway), Gabriela Soukalova (Czech Republic), Darya Domracheva (Belarus), Andrea Henkel (Germany)
Berger has won the individual at the last two world championships, but her form has dipped this season, while Soukalova has won two World Cup races. Henkel, 37, won Olympic gold in 2002 but showed last year she remains a threat by taking world individual silver.
Men’s 15km mass start - February 16
Gold medalist in 2010: Evgeny Ustyugov (Russia)
Contenders: Martin Fourcade (France), Tarjei Boe (Norway), Emil Hegle Svendsen (Norway), Andreas Birnbacher (Germany)
Fourcade won silver in the mass start at the 2010 Olympics and will be hoping to go one better in Sochi, but the chaotic nature of the race can produce a surprise winner, as Ustyugov was in Vancouver. Only 30 athletes compete to prevent congestion, far fewer than usual.
Women’s 12.5km mass start - February 17
Gold medalist in 2010: Magdalena Neuner (Germany)
Contenders: Tora Berger (Norway), Darya Domracheva (Belarus), Olga Zaitseva (Russia), Andrea Henkel (Germany)
The packed start makes experience crucial. Berger won the only mass start so far this World Cup season, while Domracheva has a strong record. Zaitseva, 35, took Olympic silver in 2010 and could be a threat again - she and Henkel are wily veterans.
Mixed 4x6km/7.5km relay - February 19
Gold medalist in 2010: None - new event
Contenders: Norway, Czech Republic, France, Russia
On the Olympic program for the first time, the mixed relay partners two men and two women from each nation. Norway has a well-balanced roster and is the team to beat, having won gold at the last three world championships. Medal hopes here for host nation Russia.
Women’s 4x6km relay - February 21
Gold medalist in 2010: Russia
Contenders: Russia, Germany, Ukraine, Norway
Perhaps the host nation’s best hope for a biathlon gold medal, Russia will need leaders Olga Zaitseva and Olga Vilukhina firing on all cylinders. Ukraine is consistently strong, powered by twin sisters Vita and Valj Semerenko. It’s late on the Olympic program, so injuries and fatigue will shape the race.
Men’s 4x7.5km relay relay - February 22
Gold medalist in 2010: Norway
Contenders: Norway, Austria, Russia, Germany
One of the most evenly contested events. Each of the four World Cup relays this season has had a different winner. Norway, Austria, Russia and France took the gold medals, but Germany and Sweden remain strong. By the time of this last Olympic race, some teams will be missing injured athletes.