Darya Domracheva

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China continues big-name Winter Olympic coaching hires with biathlon king

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China took another step toward its bid for home success at the 2022 Beijing Winter Games by hiring two of the greatest biathletes in history as national team coaches.

Norwegian Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, the male record holder with 13 Winter Olympic medals, and his wife, Belarus’ Darya Domracheva, a six-time medalist, will lead a Chinese biathlon program that has never earned an Olympic medal.

Previously, China hired Shaun White‘s former coach to guide its snowboarding program, a world champion German to coach bobsledders, a world champion Canadian to coach skeleton sliders, a world champion Swede to coach curlers and Dutch and South Korean coaches in speed skating.

China, the closest rival to the U.S. in Summer Olympic medals over the last 20 years, earned its first Winter Olympic gold medals in 2002. It reached as high as eighth in the total medal standings at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games.

The Chinese dropped to 14th place in PyeongChang with one gold medal from short track speed skater Wu Dajing.

But if China’s success in hosting the 2008 Summer Olympics is any indication (leading 48 gold medals, 100 total medals), it will become a major factor in two years.

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Darya Domracheva, triple Olympic gold medalist in Sochi, retires

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Darya Domracheva, a triple 2014 Olympic gold medalist and Belarus’ most decorated Olympian, has retired from biathlon at age 31.

Domracheva is leaving the sport because she could not continue in biathlon while raising daughter Xenia with husband Ole Einar Bjørndalen, the 13-time Olympic medalist biathlete for Norway.

“All the time after the season, I was trying to find a compromise which would allow me to raise a child and combine with a professional career at the same time,” Domracheva said, according to the International Biathlon Union (IBU). “Unfortunately I did not find an optimal solution which would allow me to combine those two important life parts. This decision is well weighted and very tough, but I finish my sports career.”

Domracheva was one of the biggest stars of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games as the only athlete to claim three individual gold medals, four years after being put on a Belarus postage stamp for earning an individual bronze. Domracheva could have competed for Russia, having been born in Minsk but raised in the remote western Siberia oil boom town of Nyagan, the birthplace of Maria Sharapova.

She became Belarus’ first female Olympic champion, saying she was “the hope of” Belarus, then was awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor, “Hero of Belarus.”

After winning her only World Cup overall title in 2015, Domracheva missed the 2015-16 campaign with glandular fever, then in April 2016 announced she and Bjørndalen were in a relationship and having a child.

Domracheva returned to take a silver medal at the 2017 World Championships, then entered PyeongChang ranked fifth in the world. Domracheva struggled early in PyeongChang with finishes of ninth, 37th and 27th before earning mass start silver and relay gold.

Her six career Olympic medals are two more than anybody else from Belarus, and her four golds are double anybody else’s total from her country.

Belarus has only competed independently since the 1994 Lillehammer Games, having previously been part of the Soviet Union. Its top athletes who competed under other flags included gymnasts Olga Korbut (six medals, four golds for the Soviets) and Vitaly Scherbo (six golds in 1992 for the Unified Team; four bronzes in 1996 for Belarus).

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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World’s top biathlete returns three months after childbirth

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Belarus’ Darya Domracheva, the only athlete to earn three individual gold medals in Sochi, returns to the biathlon World Cup this week for the first time since March 2015.

Domracheva, 30, missed the 2015-16 season due to mononucleosis and the start of this season due to pregnancy.

She and Norway’s Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, the most decorated Winter Olympian of all time with 13 medals, announced April 5 that they were in a relationship and having a child.

The were married in the summer. Domracheva gave birth Oct. 1 to daughter Xenia.

Now she’s back competing in Oberhof, Germany, with World Cup events starting Friday.

The women’s biathlon scene has changed since Domracheva finished the 2014-15 season as World Cup overall champion and began her break.

This season’s World Cup leader is German Laura Dahlmeier, who didn’t finish in the top 10 in any of her five Sochi Olympic events and was eighth in the World Cup overall standings in Domracheva’s last season.

France’s Marie Dorin Habert earned medals in all six events at the 2016 World Championships, one season after finishing 15th in the World Cup overall standings.

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