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Ole Einar Bjørndalen retires after six Olympics, 13 medals

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Ole Einar Bjørndalen, the most decorated male Winter Olympian with 13 medals, tearfully announced his retirement from biathlon on Tuesday, according to the International Biathlon Union.

Bjørndalen, a 44-year-old Norwegian, said he suffered from heart murmurs this season.

“My motivation is unstoppable,” he said, according to the IBU. “I have the pleasure and motivation to hold on to sports that are just amazing. I would like to take a few more years, but this is the last season.”

The Biathlon King’s Olympic career ended two months ago, when he was left off Norway’s team for PyeongChang, ending a bid for a seventh Winter Games.

Bjørndalen was omitted because of poor form up to that point in the season — individual results of 18th, 31st, 18th, 28th, 46th, 52nd, 36th and 42nd in World Cups. He also competed in the last three World Cups after the Olympics. Bjørndalen had three episodes of the heart issue during the season.

“It is not dangerous, but it is a discomfort,” he said, according to the IBU. “I always got it in a state of rest, never under stress, so I was never sure if I should compete or work hard. … We got it under control. … I responded well and received very good help from my health team, but I was constantly a concern.”

Bjørndalen became the oldest individual Winter Olympic champion in Sochi, where he also passed countryman Bjørn Daehlie for the career Winter Games medal record and tied Daehlie for the career gold-medal record (eight).

In PyeongChang, countrywoman and cross-country skier Marit Bjørgen earned five medals and two golds to break the total medals record (15) and tie Bjøerndalen and Daehlie with eight golds.

In 2016, Bjøerndalen committed to one more Olympic run after capturing medals in three of four individual events at the world championships in Oslo.

He also announced that spring that he and Belarusian biathlete Darya Domracheva, who won three golds at the Sochi Olympics, were having a baby.

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MORE: Best biathlon moments from PyeongChang Olympics

World Cup Alpine season opener gets green light

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After checking the snow on the Rettenbach glacier in Soelden, Austria, FIS officials announced Thursday that the traditional World Cup season opener is set to go ahead as planned Oct. 26-27 with men’s and women’s giant slalom races.

Current conditions at Soelden show a solid 30 inches of snow at the summit. The race finishes at an altitude of 2,670 meters (8,760 feet), far above the currently snowless village.

The first races of the season are never guaranteed to have enough snow, though last year’s men’s race at Soelden had the opposite problem, being canceled when a storm blew through with heavy snowfall and high winds. 

France’s Tessa Worley won the women’s race last year ahead of Italy’s Frederica Brignone and U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who would go on to dominate the rest of the World Cup season.

The Soelden weekend is followed by three dormant weeks until the season resumes Nov. 23-24 in Levi, Finland. The World Cup circuits then switch to North America. The men will run speed events Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Lake Louise, Alberta, then head to Beaver Creek, Colo., for more speed events and a giant slalom Dec. 6-8. The women run slalom and giant slalom Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Killington, Vt., and head to Lake Louise the next weekend.

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Olympic marathon and race walk move from Tokyo to Sapporo draws some pushback

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In the wake of a dropout-plagued set of world championship endurance races in Qatar, moving the 2020 Olympic marathons and race walks from Tokyo to the cooler venue of Sapporo is a quick fix for one problem, pending the potential for untimely heat waves.

But the move has drawn some opposition for a variety of reasons.

First, many organizers and politicians appear to have been caught by surprise. Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, was “taken aback” and Sapporo’s mayor, Katsuhiro Akimoto, learned about the move from the media, Kyodo News reported. Koike even sarcastically suggested that the races could move all the way northward to islands disputed by Russia and Japan.

South African sports scientist Ross Tucker suggested that running in heat and humidity poses an interesting challenge for athletes, some of whom may be able to catch up with faster runners by preparing for the conditions.

British marathoner Mara Yamauchi made a similar point, saying the move was unfair to those who already were preparing for the heat, humidity and other conditions.

Belgian marathoner Koen Naert said he will make the best of the change but complained that some of his preparation and every runner’s logistical planning would no longer apply.

The angriest athlete may be Canadian walker Evan Dunfee, who placed fourth in the 2016 Olympic 50km race and nearly claimed bronze as a Canadian appeal was upheld but then rejected. He says runners and walkers can beat the conditions if they prepare, which many athletes did not do for the world championships in Qatar.

“So why do we cater to the ill prepared?” Dunfee asked on Twitter.

The move also takes athletes out of the main Olympic city and takes away the traditional, tough less frequent in modern years, finish in the Olympic stadium.

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