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.