Marcel Hirscher looks to step to podium in men's slalom
Norwegian teen Kristofferson emerging contender for Olympic podium
The third time wasn't a charm for Marcel Hirscher, who has one final chance to match his typical World Cup form in the final alpine skiing event of the Sochi Olympics on Saturday.
Hirscher, the overall World Cup champion the past two seasons, is threatening to leave his second Olympic experience without a medal.
The Austrian has been about as close as could be in his first three Olympic races. He's skied to fourth places in the Vancouver and Sochi giant slaloms, in addition to a fifth in the slalom at the Winter Games in Canada four years ago.
Hirscher, who turns 25 next month, has racked up 27 World Cup wins in the discipline and counting.
There are at least three other strong contenders to capture gold.
Felix Neureuther said he felt more confident about his prospects in the slalom after finishing eighth in the GS earlier this week. The German was unsure about competing at all after hurting his neck in a minor car accident last week.
After just two wins in his first several years on the circuit, Neureuther has ascended to the next level with six victories since January 2013, all but one in slalom.
Alexis Pinturault of France didn't finish his first Olympic race last week in the super-combined, but shook off that disappointment to earn bronze in the giant slalom on Wednesday. He's generally better in GS, but has slalom victories in each of the last two seasons.
Hirscher's teammate Mario Matt is the very definition of a specialist, with 39 of his 41 career World Cup podiums in slalom. The 34-year-old is running out of time to make Olympic magic after not finishing the Turin Games race and not qualifying for Vancouver in a career-worst year.
Then there's Henrik Kristofferson. The 19-year-old can join fellow Norwegian Ktejil Jansrud as Olympic champions in Sochi, a not far-fetched prospect given his four podium appearances in slalom since mid-November, including a night slalom win.
Saturday's competition will comprise two runs, finishing under the lights. Gold goes to the skier with the fastest combined time.
Other contenders to reach the podium include Vancouver Games bronze medallist Andre Myhrer of Sweden and Patrick Thaler of Italy.
Previous Olympic slalom champions Giuliano Razzoli of Italy and Benjamin Raich of Austria haven't cracked the top 5 in a race this season, but skiers Dominique Gisin of Switzerland and Andrew Weibrecht of the United States have shown in Sochi that a lack of strong recent results isn't always an impediment to reaching the podium.
No Canadian man has ever won an Olympic medal in slalom, and it's a streak that will probably continue.
Canada sends four competitors down the course, a split between veterans and promising young skiers who've excelled in the Nor-Am circuit.
Brad Spence heads to his second Olympic slalom and will be gaining inspiration from 17-year-old Gillian O'Blenes. The young Calgarian, diagnosed with bone cancer in May 2013, designed the helmet Spence will wear Saturday.
Spence, like bronze medal winner Jan Hudec, has overcome career-threatening injuries to get back to the Olympics. He'll be looking for a positive result after failing to finish the Vancouver Games slalom.
Mike Janyk heads to the starting gate in his third Winter Games. The Whistler, B.C., native posted top 20 results in the slalom at both the Turin and Vancouver Games.
Janyk, 31, won a bronze in slalom at the world championships, albeit nearly five years ago.
Trevor Philp and Phil Brown, both under 22 and originally from Toronto, are back after making their Olympic debut in the giant slalom earlier this week.
Philp jumped out six spots in the second run of the giant slalom to finish a respectable 25th.
Brown also made some gains after mistakes in the opening run, moving up two places to 29th.
Heading into the final alpine event, Austria leads with seven medals. Austria, Switzerland, Slovenia and the United States each have two gold.