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June 24, 2017

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Ladies first in Sochi's Black Sea bubble

SOCHI, Russia -- Kim Yu-Na, Sara Takanashi and Mikaela Shiffrin have the task of dragging the Winter Olympics out of Sochi's Black Sea bubble and transforming a spectacle so long bullied by its brash summer cousin.

With the Russian resort under security lockdown, and with US$50 billion lavished on the Feb. 7-23 showpiece, the likes of figure skater Kim, ski jumper Takanashi and teenage slalom queen Shiffrin are set to be headline-makers.

Their grace and power will undoubtedly overshadow even Ole Einar Bjoerndalen.

He's the 40-year-old Norwegian biathlete who has 11 medals stretching back to 1994 and needs just one more to join compatriot Bjorn Daehlie as the most decorated winter Olympian of all time.

The fact that biathlon struggles to be TV-friendly is symptomatic of the Winter Olympics' struggles to break out of its core markets — there will be around 3,000 competitors at Sochi compared to 10,500 who took part in London's Summer Olympics.

At least Kim has the advantage of figure skating's wider exposure.

The 23-year-old South Korean world champion is the defending gold medalist from Vancouver in 2010, although she heads to Sochi slowly building her form after suffering a right foot injury.

"I'm in good shape," said Kim, as she bids to become just the third woman to win back-to-back Olympic figure skating titles and the first since Germany's Katarina Witt in 1984 and 1988.

Kim will quit after Sochi, as will her Japanese rival Mao Asada, the 2008 and 2010 world champion and silver medallist at Vancouver.

Japan failed to win a single gold four years ago, but in 17-year-old Takanashi, they should bury that statistic as women's ski jumping makes its historic bow at the Games.

Takanashi has already captured 10 of 13 World Cup rounds this season, finding time to also win the world junior title last month.

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