Speed kings ready to deliver thrills on the slopes
Miller calls the race the 'pinnacle' of his sport, and the showman will begin the Alpine programme at the Sochi Games in style if he becomes the oldest male skier to capture an Olympic gold.
Been there, done that" the veteran American Bode Miller said of the Olympics this week. But in the moments before he flings himself down the men's downhill course on Sunday, you can be sure the adrenaline will be pumping as strongly as ever.
Miller calls the race the "pinnacle" of his sport, and the showman will begin the Alpine programme at the Sochi Games in style if he becomes the oldest male skier to capture an Olympic gold.
The 36-year-old, competing in what will almost certainly be his fifth and final Games, will have a fight to be king of the hill, with Norwegian giant Aksel Lund Svindal, Austrians Klaus Kroell and Matthias Mayer, and Swiss Didier Defago - a surprise winner four years ago - among those in the frame.
No Winter Olympics truly comes alive until the Alpine skiing events start, and the opening races should provide some compelling tales, whether it is victory for a resurgent Miller or Germany's Maria Hoefl-Riesch filling the void left by American Lindsey Vonn's absence in the women's downhill.
With Vancouver champion Vonn missing following knee surgery, Hoefl-Riesch has been left as the woman to beat in the downhill, and she desperately wants to win after claiming two golds four years ago in slalom and super combined.
She will come under pressure from Austrians Anna Fenninger and Elizbeth Goergl, experienced American Julia Mancuso, and Slovenian all-rounder Tina Maze. Liechtenstein's Tina Weirather could also be a dark horse for the title.
"Of course it's a big goal, but it is a difficult track where a mistake can happen virtually on every turn," Hoefl-Riesch told reporters after her second training run on the challenging Rosa Khutor course on Friday.
"The one who makes the least mistakes and keeps pace on the skis the best will win.
"I will try my very best, but it won't be easy."
Such is Hoefl-Riesch's strength across all the disciplines - she won slalom and super combined in Vancouver - that it would be no surprise if she matched Janica Kostelic's haul of four career Olympic golds over the next two weeks.
'INTO YOUR HEAD'
Much of the talk over the past few days has been about the respective pistes cut into the Caucasus Mountains that loom over the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
While Hoefl-Riesch was worried that organisers had slowed the women's track down too much after concerns about one of the jumps, Svindal said some of the men's jumps were on the limit, although Miller had no complaints.
"The Olympics are meant to be the pinnacle of the sport. If the downhill course doesn't get into your head, it is not good enough," six-times Olympic medallist Miller said on Friday.
In between the men's and women's downhill is the women's super combined on Monday, featuring a shortened downhill followed by a slalom - an intriguing event designed to test all-round skiing technique.
The first week of Alpine action then contines with the men's super combined on Friday before the super-G races next weekend.
Technical events then take centre stage with Austria's slalom wizard Marcel Hirscher starting the Games as the Alpine powerhouse nation's best chance of a men's gold after the dismal flop in Vancouver, where the men went home without a medal for the first time since 1936.
Two Americans could also light up the second week of action, with giant slalom world champion Ted Ligety aiming to win another Olympic gold after his combined title in 2006.
Colorado teenager Mikaela Shiffrin will be the woman to watch in the slaloms, having won three World Cup races already this season following on from her world title.
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