- Associated Press - Saturday, February 8, 2014

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) - After the men kicked off the biathlon events at the Sochi Olympics, the women come next with the 7.5-kilometer sprint on Sunday. Here are five things to know about the first women’s biathlon competition of the Sochi Games:

BEGINNING WITH BERGER: Norway is eager to top the biathlon medal table in Sochi, as the nation did in Vancouver four years ago. On the women’s side, the Scandinavians’ quest mainly relies on reigning world champion Tora Berger. She tops the season’s overall World Cup standings, though Kaisa Makarainen of Finland leads in the sprint rankings. Makarainen and Berger have been the most consistent competitors in the first five sprints this season, though both have failed to grab a win.

JUST A MEDAL: Favorites in any sport come to the Olympics to win a medal. In biathlon, they also came to earn points in the World Cup standings. It used to be some consolation for athletes coming fourth - no medal but still 43 ranking points. Not anymore. For the first time, the biathlon events in Sochi don’t count for the World Cup. So no double rewards if you make it to the podium.

SWISS SURPRISE? Biathletes from Switzerland are seldom ranked among the medal contenders at major championships, unless it’s Selina Gasparin.

The 29-year-old became the first Swiss winner of a World Cup event when she took the 7.5K sprint in Hochfilzen, Austria, last December. And to prove it wasn’t a one-off, Gasparin repeated her victory in a sprint at Le Grand-Bornand, France, the next weekend. Gasparin even topped the discipline standings for a while and has become a serious challenger to Makarainen and Berger for the season’s World Cup sprint title. And probably for the Olympic title, too.

RIGHT ON TRACK: The Olympic stadium here hosted a World Cup event last season and the women have been training for several days this week, but parts of the course for Sunday’s competition will still be unfamiliar. Local organizers changed the track following last year’s test races, but came up short in designing the 2.5-kilometer loop. Course workers on Friday had to add 40 meters to the track. The women used the new loop in Saturday’s official training.

KUZMINA’S COMEBACK: Competing for Slovakia, 2010 gold medalist Anastasiya Kuzmina returns to her country of birth for the Sochi Olympics. Kuzmina won the sprint in Vancouver and added silver in the pursuit, but initially failed to reproduce a similar kind of form on the World Cup circuit. The return of coach Juraj Sanitra two years ago helped her getting back on track.

“We don’t look back to Vancouver, which helps us psychologically,” Sanitra said. “We are not here to win the gold again, but to show the results of our work. Anastasiya skis well and her shooting has got better this season.”


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