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

IIHF president doesn’t expect NHL participation in 2018 Olympics

Sidney Crosby
Getty Images
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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — The head of ice hockey’s international body says there is a strong possibility that NHL players won’t be competing at the next Winter Olympics.

International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel puts the chances at 60 percent that the NHL will decline to go to the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, because of a lack of money to cover player insurance.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Fasel said the IOC has canceled its contribution to player travel and insurance costs for Pyeongchang, leaving the IIHF facing a $10 million shortfall and “begging” for money around the world.

“It’s always difficult to get (to) the Olympics, the Games,” he said. “And now with some problems on our side, 50-50 is very positive. I would be more 60 percent that they are not coming.”

Negotiations and brinkmanship over finances are common in the lead-up to Olympic hockey tournaments. For the 2014 tournament in Sochi, Russia, the NHL’s participation was assured only in July 2013, seven months before the Games.

The IOC’s refusal to cover player insurance adds an additional dimension for 2018.

The NHL did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday, but Commissioner Gary Bettman has made it clear costs are a key factor.

“There are real costs to us going, including insurance, including transportation because we’re losing part of our season, we’ve got to get in and out quickly,” Bettman said last month at a meeting of the Associated Press Sports Editors in New York. “The players for the last five Olympics in particular have been accommodated in a certain way as far as it relates to their families. Those are issues that would once again have to be resolved. … I’m not sure that there would be a lot of appetite for us on top of that to have to pay for the privilege. We don’t make money going to then Olympics.”

Bettman said he didn’t expect a decision until after the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto in September.

While the IOC gives the IIHF around $40 million of revenue each Olympics, Fasel insists that money is earmarked for developing hockey and wants national Olympic committees and hockey federations to plug the gap.

The IOC pulled its extra subsidy because its leaders are “a bit scared that other (sports) federations will come and also ask for some compensation for traveling and insurance,” said Fasel, who is also an IOC member and serves on its rule-making executive board.

“I think my idea is to work closer together with the national Olympic committees, as they have normally to pay transportation and insurance for the athletes when they come to the Games, so I can imagine that some of the NOCs are also ready to spend some money there, so we have to go around and do some begging,” he said.

Fasel said the end of this year is the deadline to reach a deal because of the NHL’s need to draw up a calendar for the Olympic season.

“If you don’t have the best, (the Olympics) will be a different competition for sure,” he said, but warned: “At the end somebody has to pay. That’s the question. On my side I will do everything possible to make it happen.”

Fasel dismissed the suggestion that the World Cup of Hockey could offer some players less incentive to demand to be allowed to play at the Olympics.

“There is nothing like the Olympics,” he said. “I think for an athlete to win the gold medal is so different from winning the Stanley Cup. You can win the Stanley Cup every year.”

In Pyeongchang in 2018 and Beijing in 2022, the Winter Olympics move to Asia and away from the North American and European nations that have historically been the bedrock of hockey.

South Korea, which has built a team mixing import players with locals, plays in the second level of the IIHF’s world championship and hopes not to be a walkover in 2018. China is far less competitive. China will be in the fifth tier for next year and in 2022 could become the first Winter Olympic host not to enter a hockey team — a situation that worries the IIHF, given China’s potential to become a huge market for the sport.

“One thing they do not like is to lose the face, so they cannot do that,” Fasel said. “I hope and I think they will have a Chinese player, Chinese team in Beijing in 2022. We cannot put them on the ice and they will be beaten 15, 20-nothing. We cannot do that.”

Things are looking up for China, with increased government interest and the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League due to open a team there this year, but Fasel said the NHL is key to unlocking potentially vast commercial rewards in China.

“A North American brand in China has a very special taste. We can see that with the NBA,” he said. “I think what we need is to have a Chinese NHL player, like Yao Ming with basketball.”

MORE: 2018 Olympic men’s hockey groups determined

Golf Channel unveils Rio Olympic broadcast schedule

Rio 2016
NBC
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Golf Channel will air more than 130 live hours and nearly 300 total hours of Olympic programming for the sport’s return to the Games in Rio in August.

The first Olympic golf tournaments in 112 years start Aug. 11 (men) and Aug. 17 (women), but Golf Channel coverage will begin Aug. 8 with Golf Central’s “Live From the Olympics.”

Competition coverage will run from the opening tee shot to the final putt and medal ceremonies.

NBC’s Olympic coverage will also include live look-ins, highlights and updates from the golf competition throughout the Games.

The Olympic men’s and women’s golf tournaments are each four-round, stroke-play individual events with 60 golfers in each field determined by world rankings on July 11.

The top 15 in the world rankings will qualify, with no more than four golfers per nation per gender. Then the fields are filled with no more than two golfers per nation past the top 15 until the 60 mark is met.

MORE: USA Golf unveils Olympic uniforms

Golf Channel Live Schedule

Date Event Time (ET)
Monday, Aug. 8 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 6-8 p.m.
Tuesday, Aug. 9 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 6-8 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 10 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 6-8 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 11 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 5-6:30 a.m.
MEN ROUND 1 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 3-5 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 12 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 5-6:30 a.m.
MEN ROUND 2 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 3-5 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 13 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 5-6:30 a.m.
MEN ROUND 3 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 3-5 p.m.
Sunday, Aug. 14 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 5-6 a.m.
MEN FINAL ROUND 6 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 3-5 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 15 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 6-8 p.m.
Tuesday, Aug. 16 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 6-8 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 17 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 5-6:30 a.m.
WOMEN ROUND 1 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 3-5 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 18 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 5-6:30 a.m.
WOMEN ROUND 2 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 3-5 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 19 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 5-6 a.m.
WOMEN ROUND 3 6 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 3-5 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 20 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 5-6 a.m.
WOMEN FINAL ROUND 6 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 3-5 p.m.