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Bjoerndalen sets sights on Sochi medals

By Steve Ginsburg

WHISTLER (Reuters) - Ageless biathlon virtuoso Ole Einar Bjoerndalen is leaving Vancouver already planning his assault on the Winter Games' all-time medal record.

The 36-year-old Norwegian won a gold and a silver at the Vancouver Games, boosting his career haul to 11 medals, one shy of the record by cross country skier Bjorn Daehlie.

"I don't know so much about Sochi," said the man regarded by many as the best biathlete ever.

He then issued a not-so-subtle warning to those wanting to topple the king: "I will prepare the next four years and do my best and I will be in shape in Sochi."

By the 2014 Winter Games in Russia he will be 40 years old yet the odds are good Daehlie's record will fall.

Entering the final leg of Norway's gold medal-winning 4x7.5km relay he was even with Austrian Christoph Sumann but an unruffled Bjoerndalen blew through his round cleanly while his rival felt the pressure and misfired on his first four shots.

"I went at my maximum," said Bjoerndalen, who also won silver in the 20km individual in Vancouver. "I just do my job. That's me and what I like."

The veteran will not have to look far to find some stiff competition in Sochi, with 24-year-old team mate Emil Hegle Svendsen having won two golds and a silver at Whistler Olympic Park.

Women have made great strides in the sport and, for the first time in the Olympics, more women than men competed in one of the events -- just.

MORE WOMEN

In the 7.5km sprint, 89 women made it to the start line, while in the men's 10km sprint there were 88.

"Women's biathlon has improved a lot over the years," said Germany's Kati Wilhelm, who added a bronze medal in Vancouver to her previous Olympic haul of three gold and three silver.

"Compared to some years ago, there are many more women competing at a top level now.

"Before people would laugh when we girls came to training with rifles in our bags but now I think women's biathlon is even more popular than men's biathlon. At least in Germany."

The top woman performer at the Winter Games was German Magdalena Neuner, who won individual golds in the 10km pursuit and 12.5km mass start, along with a silver in the sprint.

Wilhelm would like to see a mixed relay make it on to the Olympic program.

"The mixed relay is a very nice competition and I especially like it because it is good for smaller NOCs (National Organising Committees) who perhaps struggle to put four girls together for a team," she said.

"With a mixed relay, it is enough to have two girls."

Norway's Tora Berger, who won gold in the 15km individual, agreed, saying, "We compete in mixed relay in the world championship, so I think it should be a competition at the Olympic Games too."

(Editing by Jon Bramley)