Super-combined preview: Alexis Pinturault the next in line?
Marcel Hirscher also looking for 1st Olympic medal
Alexis Pinturault of France will mark his first Olympic alpine ski race on Friday, and few in the sport would be surprised if he reached the podium in his debut.
Pinturault, who turns 22 in March, has reached the podium a dozen times over the past two World Cup seasons.
After some struggles in November and December, here are his results in six technical races of slalom, giant slalom and super-combined held since Jan. 19: Two wins, a silver, a bronze, a fourth and a fifth.
The Frenchman's potential is such that before this season he attracted high profile sponsor Red Bull. The energy drink pours out the bucks for alpine stars only, with affiliations with Lindsey Vonn, Aksel Lund Svindal and Erik Guay of Canada.
CBC Sports alpine analyst Kerrin Lee-Gartner, the 1992 Olympic downhill champion, is among those who think the sky's the limit for Pinturault.
"I don't think he's going anywhere but up and I wouldn't be surprised if he wins a slalom or giant slalom any day, any mountain, any time - he's that good," she said.
"He could be the one to break up that Ted Ligety-Marcel Hirscher dominance in the technical races."
Pinturault, followed by Ligety and then Hirscher, were the podium finishers in a Jan. 26 super-combi that comprised a super-G and slalom.
The Olympic race Friday features a downhill in the first run, followed a few hours later by a slalom.
Ligety won the super-combi at the 2013 world championships in such a configuration, the second of his stunning three gold medals at the event. Jean-Claude Killy 46 years earlier had been the last to win three at the worlds.
Ligety told CBC Sports before the season he has a "chip on his shoulder" after failing to hit the podium at the Vancouver Games. He won super-combined gold at the 2006 Olympics in Turin.
There are other contenders, to be sure.
Kjetil Jansrud, with a bronze in the downhill on Sunday, has now hit the Olympic podium in both speed and technical events. The Norwegian won silver at the Vancouver Games in 2010.
Bode Miller, after a disappointing day in the aforementioned downhill, has a legitimate shot at a sixth career Olympic medal. He is the defending Olympic champ in super-combined, and a mistake cost him a podium spot in the Jan. 26 race.
Finally, one can't count out Ivica Kostelic, even though he's 34 years old. The Croatian has three Olympic silver medals to his credit, including in the Turin and Vancouver super-combis.
Pinturault and Ligety were respectably in the middle of the pack in Wednesday's downhill training session. Hirscher won't arrive in Sochi until Feb. 16, opting to compete in the slalom and giant slalom only.
Morgan Pridy of Whistler, B.C., will ski for Canada in his first Olympics. Pridy isn't expected to contend, but has inspired hope for the future with great results on the Nor-Am racing circuit.