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Olympics: Straight-shooting Norwegians target gold

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

When it comes to biathlon and cross country skiing at the Sochi Olympics, it looks like Norway can already start celebrating.

Tora Berger comfortably leads the women's World Cup race in biathlon and with Germany's Magdalena Neuner -- the winner of two golds at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics as well as 12 world championship golds -- in retirement, the 32-year-old Norwegian looks poised for the top step of the podium.

Berger, who will also quit after this season, won one gold in Vancouver, in the 15km individual, but collected seven golds at the last two world championships.

"I have some more goals to achieve, then my work in biathlon is completed. I used to have more desire, it became more difficult to find motivation," she said.

Her compatriot Ole Einar Bjoerndalen still has plenty of motivation, even at the age of 39 and with his sixth Olympics about to get underway.

He has 11 Olympic medals, six of which are gold, as well as 19 world championship titles.

But there are signs that even his powers are on the wane.

His lone gold in Vancouver came in the relay event whereas in Salt Lake City eight years earlier, he had swept four gold in four events.

This season he is lagging behind France's Martin Fourcade in the overall World Cup standings.

Fourcade, 25, is a five-time world championship gold medallist and two-time overall World Cup champion who is comfortably on his way to a third title.

But his only Olympic medal so far is a silver from the mass start race in Vancouver.

His other results in Canada in 2010 were disappointing -- sixth in the relay, 14th in individual, 34th in pursuit and 35th in sprint.

His main rival will be another Norwegian, Emil Hegle Svendsen, who captured four gold at last year's world championships.

However, neither Berger nor Fourcade can top American twins Tracy and Lanny Barnes when it comes to devotion.

Tracy won selection for Sochi but ceded her place to her sister who missed out on the team after illness forced her out of the final qualification rounds.

"She's having a great year, and I think when you care enough about someone you're willing to make that kind of sacrifice," said Tracy.

In turn, Lanny told NBC's Today programme: "I want to do my best for Tracy, and I always do better under pressure, so I'm definitely going to push as hard as I can and just fight that much harder for her."

In cross-country skiing, Norway again has been the traditional heavyweights with 35 golds followed by Sweden on 27.

In Vancouver, Petter Northug won two gold, one silver and a bronze in six events while, in the women's competition, Marit Bjoergen took three gold as well as a silver and a bronze.

That made Bjoergen the most successful female athlete in Vancouver, although her success was not without controversy as she faced down accusations of doping for her use of asthma medication.

This year she stands third in the overall World Cup standings behind compatriots Therese Johaug and Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen.

Norway also dominate the men's World Cup with Martin Johnsrud Sundby and Chris Jespersen hogging the top two places.

In the Nordic Combined -- which features cross country as well as ski jumping -- Germany's Eric Frenzel is the overwhleming favourite especially after his triple winning run at Seedorf in Austria at the weekend.

He leads the World Cup race with France's Olympic champion, Jason Lamy Chappuis back in third.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140121/olympics-straight-shooting-norwegians-target-gold