Can Bjørndalen break the record for most starts at the Winter Olympics?

In Sochi, biathlete Ole Einar Bjørndalen will compete in his sixth – and probably last – Winter Olympics. While that would tie the current record for participations, it will likely be broken in Sochi by two competitors. Bjørndalen may still break another record: that for most Winter Olympic events started in. He has currently had 21 starts (20 in biathlon, 1 in cross-country skiing) and can break the Olympic record of 25 by competing in all five men’s biathlon events in Sochi. Given his results this season, this is quite likely to happen. Other athletes who competed in Vancouver and have earned 21 starts, Oksana Yatskaya and Ilmārs Bricis are not expected to start in Sochi, although Yatskaya has been active this season.

The current record is held by a not-so-famous athlete, although she became Olympic champion in 2002. Cross country skier Gabriella Paruzzi (Italy) has competed in five Olympic events at five Olympic Games, 1992 through 2006. At each of these Games, she won a medal. She won four bronzes with the Italian relay team, and an individual gold. That came in the 2002 30 km race, although she was only awarded the medal almost two years later, as Larisa Lazutina was finally scratched from the record books due to an out-of-competition doping violation. Paruzzi’s teammate and contemporary, Stefania Belmondo is second on the list of most events started in, with 22. She was more successful than her compatriot though, earning 10 medals including two golds (and a silver behind Paruzzi in the 2002 30 km).

Looking at the top ten of most Winter Olympic starts, it is not a surprise there are a lot of cross-country skiers there. The sport has had a large number of events for many years, allowing competitors with long careers to make many starts. Biathlon, which has grown from three to five events per Olympics, is now allowing the same. Speed skating also has six events, but as we have seen starters in all Olympic speed skating events have become rare in recent years. The top 10 of most Olympic starts is:

# Athlete Country Sport Years Starts
1 Gabriella Paruzzi ITA cross country skiing 1992-2006 25
2 Stefania Belmondo ITA cross country skiing 1988-2002 22
3 Oksana Yatskaya KAZ cross country skiing 1998-2010 21
3 Harri Kirvesniemi FIN cross country skiing 1980-1998 21
3 Ole Einar Bjørndalen NOR biathlon & cross country skiing 1994-2010 21
3 Ilmārs Bricis LAT biathlon 1992-2010 21
7 Kjetil André Aamodt NOR alpine skiing 1992-2006 20
7 Kateřina Neumannová CZE cross country skiing 1992-2006 20
7 Emese Nemeth-Hunyady HUN&AUT speed skating 1984-2002 20
10 Hiroyuki Imai JPN cross country skiing 1992-2002) 19
10 Marja-Liisa Kirvesniemi-Hämäläinen FIN cross country skiing 1976-1994) 19
10 Manuela Di Centa ITA cross country skiing 1984-1998) 19
10 Sergey Chepikov URS&EUN&RUS biathlon & cross country skiing 1988-2006) 19

It should be pointed out that Kateřina Neumannová also competed in the 1996 Summer Olympics in mountainbiking, realizing an additional, 21st, start. The married couple of Harri and Marja-Liisa Kirvesniemi take the pairs title for Winter Olympic starts, with a combined total of 40.

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