Olympic men's alpine skiing preview
Canadian drought lingers, international stars abound
The Canadian Cowboys - Erik Guay, Manuel Osborne-Paradis and Jan Hudec - will try to break a 20-year Olympic medal drought for the country in alpine skiing.
In fact, no Canadian man has ever won a gold or silver medal in alpine.
That will be the dominant storyline in this country, but there are also several other intriguing ones to follow in the men's alpine events at Rosa Khutor Centre.
Marcel Hirscher of Austria and Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway went 1-2 in the overall World Cup standings last year, and that’s where they stand so far this season.
Because of their respective specialties, they would only duel in the super-combined and giant slalom competitions, but the stylistic contrast is striking. The six-foot-two Svindal is looking to enhance his Olympic legacy, while the five-foot-eight Hirscher aims to build his own after finishing just off the podium in two events at the Vancouver Games.
Svindal, 31, won a medal of every kind in Vancouver and he’s eager for more.
“The excitement that you get, the adrenaline that you get, standing on the start at the Olympics, knowing that you can win that race, it just gives you that extra energy and you just get a little bit extra fired up,” Svindal told CBC Sports. “So you're able to, I feel, push yourself even further.”
Svindal started the season with four victories in either downhill or super-G, but settled for less than a win over his subsequent three podium appearances.
Hirscher has already racked up 56 World Cup podium finishes ahead of his 25th birthday, which occurs just days after Sochi wraps up. This season, he has four victories and 11 podium appearances in slalom and giant slalom, plus a bronze in the only super-combined race held.
“He’s a true innovator in our sport,” said Canadian veteran Michael Janyk. “These young guys that come up, yeah, they have that fire, they have that energy of youth, but he really has a no-fear approach.”
The U.S. team won the most alpine medals in Vancouver with seven, and while they are not expected to match that total without superstar Lindsey Vonn, two American men are medal contenders.
Improbably, Bode Miller is a medal contender in his fifth Olympics. Miller missed all of last season, but reached the podium this year in giant slalom, super-G and downhill.
Miller hasn’t won a race since Dec. 2011, but it would be just like him to break that drought at the Olympics, where he’s won five medals in his career.
Miller’s teammate Ted Ligety is a solid gold contender in both the giant slalom and super-combined.
Ligety's Olympic gold medal came in 2006 at age 21, before he became a consistent World Cup threat.
Looking for Olympic breakthroughs
Several other men’s skiers have the potential to win their first Olympic medals.
Alexis Pinturault, 21, is a contender in slalom, giant slalom and super-combined. The Frenchman has won five races and reached the top three on a dozen occasions the past two seasons.
Felix Neureuther of Germany is several years older than Pinturault, but has taken his skiing to another level in the past two years, with five wins and 11 podium appearances in slalom and giant slalom.
The young upstart is 19-year-old Henrik Kristofferson. The Norwegian has one win and four medals in slalom since November.
On the other side of the age spectrum, greybeards Ivica Kostelic of Croatia (super-combined) and Didier Defago of Switzerland (downhill) have recently shown signs they may too contend. Defago is 36, two years older than Kostelic.
From a team standpoint, there is more pressure on Hirscher now that speed racer Hannes Reichelt has dropped out of the Sochi Olympics due to a back injury. Slalom specialist Mario Matt and teammates Kraus Koll and Otmar Striedinger will look to ease his burden.
Austria won 34 medals in alpine in the three Winter Games between 1998 and 2006, but suffered a huge drop to just four medals in Vancouver, with the men shut out.
The Italian men have cooled off but cannot be underestimated. Over the span of a year, Dominik Paris, Christof Innerhofer and Matteo Marsaglia accounted for seven wins in downhill or super-G for Italy.
Behind Pinturault is a capable French team that includes the speedy Adrian Theaux and giant slalom specialist Thomas Fanara.
Olympic alpine skiing schedule:
- Sunday, Feb. 9: Men's downhill
- Monday, Feb. 10: Women's super-combined
- Wednesday, Feb. 12: Women's downhill
- Friday, Feb. 14: Men's super-combined
- Saturday, Feb. 15: Women's super-G
- Sunday, Feb. 16: Men's super-G
- Tuesday, Feb. 18: Women's giant slalom
- Wednesday, Feb. 19: Men's giant slalom
- Friday, Feb. 21: Women's slalom
- Saturday, Feb. 22: Men's slalom