Ole Einar Bjoerndalen

Biathlon World Cup season preview

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It is likely that at least some major history will be set at the Olympic biathlon competition in February.

An American is in position to win the nation’s first Olympic medal in the sport. A Norwegian could break the record for most career Winter Olympic medals, two years after Michael Phelps reset the Summer Games mark. And two dominant biathletes are vying for the greatest single-Games Winter Olympic medal haul ever.

The biathlon World Cup begins with a mixed relay in Oestersund, Sweden, on Sunday.

Here’s the full World Cup schedule:

Oestersund, Sweden — Nov. 24-Dec. 1
Hochfilzen, Austria — Dec. 6-8
Annecy-Le Grand Bornand, France — Dec. 12-15
Oberhof, Germany — Jan. 3-5
Ruhpolding, Germany — Jan. 8-12
Antholz-Anterselva, Italy — Jan. 16-19
Pokljuka, Slovenia — March 6-9
Kontiolahti, Finland — March 13-16
Oslo, Norway — March 20-23

Here are three storylines going into the Olympic season:

1. Will the U.S. be a podium threat?

Four years ago, a big story (in winter sports circles) was the American rise of two sports with no U.S. Olympic medal history — Nordic combined and biathlon.

Tim Burke, a 2006 Olympian from Paul Smiths, N.Y., had worn the yellow bib in the run-up to the Vancouver Games, marking the World Cup standings leader. It made him a contender to end that Olympic medal drought.

Burke’s results in Vancouver: 13th, 18th, 45th, 46th and 47th. The Nordic combined team won four medals. The biathlon drought continued.

Burke is again rising going into an Olympic season.

In February, he won silver in the 20km individual race at the World Championships in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic. He also finished third in a mass start race earlier in the World Cup season. Those marked his first World Championships or World Cup podium finishes since that Olympic disappointment.

“If anything it has given me a good confidence boost,” Burke said of the worlds silver. “That proves to myself and everyone else  that I can compete with the best guys during the most important races.”

Burke must string together more positive results this season to earn medal contender status in Sochi.

Burke is one of three Americans who have already qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team, joining fellow two-time Olympian Lowell Bailey and would-be Olympic rookie Susan Dunklee. Bailey and Dunklee’s best single-race results last season were both seventh.

The rest of the U.S. Olympic Team will be determined by race results in December and January.

2. Ole Einar Bjoerndalen‘s quest for Olympic history

They call him the king for good reason. Bjoerndalen owns 11 Olympic medals over five Games. How good is he? He finished fifth in a cross-country race at the 2002 Olympics.

With one medal in Sochi, Bjoerndalen will match the most decorated Winter Olympian of all time — countryman Bjorn Daehlie, a cross-country skier who won 12 over three Games.

Can he do it?

Bjoerndalen turns 40 on Jan. 27 and has said these will be his final Olympics. He hasn’t made the podium of an individual World Cup or World Championships race since February 2012.

But Bjoerndalen is buoyed by relays. Norway has won every Olympic and World Championships men’s relay since 2009, and Bjoerndalen has always been one of the four chosen participants.

There will be three Olympic biathlon relays for the first time in Sochi. A mixed men’s/women’s relay will make its Olympic debut, perhaps easing Bjoerndalen’s quest to not only catch Daehlie but also pass him.

Norway won a medal in both World Cup mixed relays last season and won the World Championship. However, the mixed relay includes two men (as opposed to four in the men’s relay), and Bjoerndalen, the third-best Norwegian men’s biathlete last season, was not a part of the mixed team at all.

Bjoerndalen is not on the start list for the World Cup-opening mixed relay Sunday, the only mixed relay before the Olympics. Clearly, he must show strong individual World Cup form to ensure he’s on that mixed relay in Sochi. If not, could it become Carl Lewis situation?

3. More gold for Berger, Fourcade?

There is little doubt who the world’s greatest biathletes are.

Norway’s Tora Berger and France’s Martin Fourcade could sweep the individual Olympic events in Sochi — a feat not done since Bjoerndalen in 2002.

Berger could win six golds, given Norway’s relay prowess, which would break American speed skater Eric Heiden‘s record five from the 1980 Olympics.

Her path was opened with the early retirement of German Magdalena Neuner after the 2011-12 season. She blasted through it with four golds and two silvers at the World Championships in February and a sweep of the season titles in all four individual World Cup standings.

Fourcade, too, swept all four individual World Cup standings but was somewhat surprised at worlds, taking one gold and four silvers.

Watch their results over the course of the World Cup season, especially against their top rivals — Norwegian Emil Hegle Svendsen for Fourcade and Belarusian Darya Domracheva and German Andrea Henkel for Berger. Henkel is Burke’s longtime girlfriend.

Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess a unique U.S. Olympic hopeful

Ryan Lochte, with new coach, races in first meet since Olympics

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Ryan Lochte is back in the competition pool.

The 12-time Olympic medalist, suspended from USA Swimming and international meets through June, won a 200-yard individual medley at the U.S. Masters nationals in Riverside, Calif., on Friday. He also finished second in a 100-yard breaststroke.

Full results are here.

“I’m a little overweight,” Lochte said, according to the Orange County Register. “I guess you could say six months of not taking care of my body and just living my life, not worrying about waking up and going to practice or anything like that. My main focus was to just relax, get away from the sport, and now that I’m getting back in I’m like, ‘Ooh, maybe I should have at least worked out a couple of times.'”

Lochte has moved to the Los Angeles area and is now coached by the University of Southern California’s Dave Salo until his fiancée’s baby is born (likely June). After that, they will re-evaluate his plan, Salo said.

Lochte was formerly coached by Gregg Troy from 2002-13 at the University of Florida, where he attended college and matured to become an Olympian in 2004. Lochte won 11 Olympic medals under Troy and became the world’s best swimmer going into the 2012 Olympics.

In 2013, Lochte moved from Gainesville to Charlotte and trained under David Marsh through the Rio Games. Lochte said last summer that he planned to move to California.

Lochte has also said he plans to try for a fifth Olympics in 2020, but his immediate future is about to get very busy — becoming a father, becoming a husband and the end of his ban.

He will swim two meets in August, the U.S. Open in East Meadow, N.Y., and an international meet in Rome, according to the Orange County Register.

“I’m behind, but you know,” Lochte said, according to the newspaper, adding he hasn’t been this happy since 2012. “I took time off. I needed it. My body and mind needed it to recover. It was just a dog fight for so many years I just got overwhelmed with the sport and lost the passion and the love for it. But now I have it. I have new passion, and I’m finding ways that swimming is fun again.”

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Jesse Owens’ Olympic gold medals up for auction

Jesse Owens
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Two of Jesse Owens‘ four 1936 Berlin Olympic gold medals will be auctioned in August, according to Heritage Auctions.

Owens won four gold medals at the Berlin Games, triumphing in the face of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany by taking the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump.

Owens gifted one gold medal to entertainer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, according to “Mr. Bojangles: The Biography of Bill Robinson.”

That medal was auctioned for in 2013 for $1,466,574, the highest price ever for a piece of Olympic memorabilia.

Owens used his three other Olympic golds as payment for a Pittsburgh hotel stay in the mid-1950s, according to “Intelligent Collector,” a magazine affiliated with Heritage Auctions, which is housing the August auction with Owens’ medals.

“Jesse didn’t have the financial means to pay for his stay at Mr. Harry Bailey’s hotel,” said Albert DeVito, son of a local handyman who ended up with the two gold medals being auctioned, according to the magazine. “So he gave his medals to Harry as his payment for expenses incurred.”

DeVito’s father was later gifted the three gold medals by the hotel owner Bailey for previously lending him money. DeVito’s father kept two and gave back to Bailey one gold medal whose whereabouts are unknown, according to the magazine.

DeVito thought to sell the remaining two gold medals after seeing the 2013 auction.

“It wasn’t until that first gold medal sold that we even thought, ‘Oh, my goodness. These things are worth something!'” DeVito said, according to the magazine.

It’s unknown which of the gold medals corresponds to which Olympic event, as they are not specified on the medals.

Before Owens’ death in 1980, the sprinter reportedly said he had lost the four gold medals. The German government replaced them, and they now rest at Ohio State, Owens’ alma mater.

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