By Julien Pretot
PARIS, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Tora Berger is something of a late bloomer, yet she could rewrite the women biathlon record books with an unprecedented Olympics clean sweep.
Berger broke into the limelight after 12-times world champion Magdalena Neuner's early retirement in March 2012, winning every crystal globe trophy in the 2012-13 season.
The 32-year-old, who has one Olympic gold from the 2010 Games in Vancouver, could win six titles in Sochi as Norway have a good chance of claiming both relay events.
The feat would break American speed skater Eric Heiden's record five golds from the 1980 Games.
Berger will need, however, to rediscover the Midas touch that helped her destroy the opposition last season, when she won all five trophies - mass start, individual, pursuit, sprint and overall.
"She reaped the rewards of a lot of years of hard work, mental and physical hard work. It's the result of her professionalism," seven-times world champion and three-times Olympic medallist Liv Grete told Reuters.
"Right now she's going through a slightly difficult period. It is going to be hard. But she has what it takes to achieve (the clean sweep)."
Berger, who became at the 2013 world championships the first biathlete, male or female, to win six medals at a single world championships with four gold and two silver, adopts a low profile in her final professional season.
"If I can compete on all distances I will do it. There are many people who are hungry for a medal but I hope to win at least one individual title," she said.
"I also hope we will win a medal in the relays."
Her results this season have been disappointing with fourth in the sprint in Hochfilzen, Austria, her best until last week in Oberhof, Germany, when she won the mass start, her first victory of the season.
"She does not control what happens on the shooting range and on the track, as she has done previously. There is still enough time before the Olympics," said Grete.
Berger, however, cannot beat Magdalena Forsberg's record of 42 individual World Cup victories as she has 26 so far and is in her final season as a biathlete.
Only a change of mind would allow her to hope to better the Swede's seemingly unsurpassable mark.
Berger is rather blunt when asked about it.
"I won't change that decision. I'm tired of that question," she told Swedish media earlier this year.
"I had rather have questions about what is going to happen at the Olympics."
Whatever happens, with her Vancouver gold, she has already done better than Forsberg, who despite winning six consecutive overall World Cup titles, could only manage two bronze medals at the Salt Lake Olympics in 2002.
Then for Berger the time will come to store her skis and rifle away, and enjoy a relatively early retirement.
"I will take some time off so I can plan the rest of my life," she said.
"I don't know what I will do. It can be within sports or something completely differtent." (Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Tony Goodson)
- Sports & Recreation
- Tora Berger
- Magdalena Neuner