Ole Einar Bjoerndalen

Amazing race to catch most decorated Winter Olympian ever

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Michael Phelps‘ pursuit of the record for most career Olympic medals — a mark held since 1964 — was a major international storyline at the 2012 Olympics.

Phelps passed retired Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina‘s record of 18 and finished the London Games with 22.

The Winter Olympic record is held by retired Norwegian cross-country skier Bjorn Daehlie, who won 12 medals from 1992 through 1998.

That record could be matched or fall in Sochi. Olympians in three sports are chasing it, led by two more Norwegians.

The most likely is biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, who is one behind Daehlie with 11 medals combined from the 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010 Olympics.

Bjoerndalen, known as the “King,” competed in Lillehammer 1994 but did not win a medal and entered one cross-country skiing race at the 2002 Olympics and finished fifth.

In Sochi, Bjoerndalen will surely be part of the men’s 4×7.5km relay, where Norway is a medal favorite. That would get him even with Daehlie.

It gets interesting after that. A new biathlon mixed relay will include two men and two women from each nation. Again, Norway is a medal favorite.

Norway’s best biathlete is Emil Hegle Svendsen. Its second best, in World Cup overall standings, has seen a shift this year. Tarjei Boe, the overall World Cup champion in 2010-11, has fallen behind Bjoerndalen this season. Bjoerndalen is having his best season in five years.

It would seem Bjoerndalen, 40, is now favored for that second spot in the mixed relay, but could that change if Boe rediscovers his world’s best form in individual events in Sochi? The individual events come before the relays on the Olympic program.

Complicating matters is Boe’s younger brother, Johannes, who was 8 months old when Bjoerndalen made his Olympic debut in 1994. Johannes has two wins this season, his first full year on the World Cup circuit, and is ranked two spots behind Bjoerndalen overall.

Bjoerndalen could save stress by winning an individual medal before the relays, but that will be tougher.

The other Norwegian candidate to catch or pass Daehlie is cross-country skier Marit Bjoergen.

Bjoergen, 33, owns seven medals combined from the 2002, 2006 and 2010 Olympics.

How could she possibly reach 12 or 13? If she repeats her Vancouver 2010 performance of five medals, she will match Daehlie. If she does the unprecedented, win six medals at a single Winter Olympics, she will pass Daehlie. She would have to be perfect as there are six women’s cross-country skiing events on the Winter Olympic program.

And it is definitely possible. Bjoergen is predicted to win medals in all four individual events by The Associated Press and Infostrada. Norway’s women are also predicted to win medals in both team events.

The problem lies with the team sprint. Bjoergen did not enter the two-woman event at the 2010 Olympics or either of two World Cup events this season. She also skipped it at the 2011 and 2013 World Championships.

If Bjoergen does not enter the team sprint, she can’t get to 13 in Sochi and she can’t break the record for most Winter Olympic medals at a single Games. She’s 33 and could definitely be around for 2018, unlike Bjoerndalen.

German speed skater Claudia Pechstein has an outside chance of reaching 12. Pechstein’s case is interesting given she was forced to sit out the 2010 Olympics because of a doping ban. She didn’t actually test positive but had irregular blood levels.

Pechstein, 41, is on nine medals from 1992 through 2006. She is a medal contender in the 3000m and 5000m in Sochi, which would get her to 11. She could also race the 1500m but is ranked seventh in World Cup standings there.

Germany won the 2010 Olympic team pursuit without Pechstein but did not qualify for the event in Sochi.

Sochi Olympic medals tested under extreme conditions

Blake Griffin will miss Olympics, report says

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For the second straight Olympics, Blake Griffin will not be able to join Team USA due to injury, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Los Angeles Clippers power forward will be out several months due to his left quad injury, according to the newspaper.

Griffin was originally chosen for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team but withdrew due to a torn meniscus, opening a spot for Anthony Davis.

Davis is also expected to miss the Rio Games due to injury.

Other power forwards on the U.S. finalist list released in January are LaMarcus Aldridge, Kenneth Faried, Draymond Green and Kevin Love.

Love is the only name from that list of healthy players with Olympic experience. Faried is the only player from that list who suited up at the 2014 World Cup, starting all nine games.

At London 2012, the U.S. started NBA small forwards LeBron James and Kevin Durant at the forward spots in all eight games, with another small forward, Carmelo Anthony, bringing similar versatility off the bench.

MORE: Why Candace Parker was left off Olympic team

Rio Olympic cauldron likely to be located near Plaza Maua

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Mayor Eduardo Paes says he wants the Olympic cauldron to burn in Rio de Janeiro’s revitalized port area.

The cauldron will be lit at Maracana Stadium during the Opening Ceremony on Aug. 5, and will spend the night there before traveling to a permanent home.

Mario Andrada, spokesman for the Rio organizing committee, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the cauldron will be placed in the port area, but not in the heart of the renovated port area known as Plaza Maua.

“It will be close to Plaza Maua, but not exactly in Plaza Maua,” Andrada said. He said it was likely to be located near the Candelaria Church, which is near the plaza.

“Don’t get me into a fight with the mayor,” Andrada added.

Paes said he hoped the new plaza would be a center for outdoor entertainment during the Games, including performance stages, musical attractions, and large-screen televisions.

“It seems that the Maracana Stadium has limitations,” Paes said, adding that moving out of the Maracana “is good because it democratizes the access to the cauldron.”

The new plaza and downtown Rio are far from the heart of the Games in suburban Barra da Tijuca. It is also an area not usually visited by tourists.

The Olympic flame arrives from Greece and Switzerland on Tuesday in the capital Brasilia, to be carried off the plane by IOC member Carlos Nuzman, the head of the Rio organizing committee.

The flame then goes to the Planalto presidential palace where it is expected to be greeted by President Dilma Rousseff.

Andrada said IOC President Thomas Bach and other top IOC officials would not be at the ceremony.

Rousseff is facing impeachment charges and could be suspended from office as early as May 11, turning over authority to Vice President Michel Temer.

Temer, himself, could also face impeachment proceedings and has a scandal-tainted career.

PHOTOS: Olympic flame visits Acropolis, 1896 Olympic Stadium