Alpine skiing: Time for favorites to stand up in the slaloms
ROSA KHUTOR, Russia
ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - American Ted Ligety regards himself as one of the favorites for Wednesday's men's giant slalom which, judging by events so far in the Caucasus mountains, means he is in for some disappointment.
From the moment spiky-haired Austrian Matthias Mayer set the cat amongst the pigeons with a surprise gold in the men's downhill, the shocks have come thick and fast on Rosa Khutor's Olympic pistes.
Swiss Dominique Gisin, without even a sniff of a World Cup podium all season, came from nowhere to share gold after an unprecedented dead heat with Tina Maze in the women's downhill.
Her similarly obscure compatriot Sandro Viletta eclipsed the likes of Ligety, Bode Miller and Aksel Lund Svindal to win the men's super-combined and on Sunday Norway's Kjetil Jansrud claimed a thrilling victory in the super-G.
While German favorite Maria Hoefl-Riesch nailed the women's super combined and Austria's Anna Fenninger finally got her skis running to win the super-G, the most predictable aspect of the first week of racing has been the Spring-like sunshine.
Course workers battled manfully to stop the slopes turning to slush during the speed events and Olympic organizers were breathing a sigh of relief on Sunday when the they were completed in the nick of time before fog rolled in.
The focus is now on the technical events which start on Tuesday with the women's giant slalom, followed by the men's on Wednesday. The Olympic program concludes with the slaloms in which Mikaela Shiffrin and Marcel Hirscher should shine.
With snow and weather conditions unlikely to play such a role from now on in, it could be time for the favorites to restore some order to proceedings.
Ligety will hope so after finishing eighth in the super combined and 14th in the super-G having arriving in southern Russia as world champion in both.
Wednesday's giant slalom, which he also won at Schladming to become the first skier to scoop three golds at a single world championships, offers his best chance of redemption.
"It's been a little disappointing and frustrating so far but every event is different," Ligety said.
"I'm just going to push hard on the race on Wednesday and I know where my skiing can be.
"In this season I've had a lot of ups and downs... but still put together some really fast results on the giant slaloms so I don't think my results so far will have much effect on the results to come in the giant slalom.
"For sure there are other guys who can be fast but I think myself, (Marcel) Hirscher and (Alexis) Pinturault are the favorites."
Germany's Viktoria Rebensburg will start Tuesday's giant slalom as reigning champion but will have to fend off the likes of former gold medalist Julia Mancuso, Slovenian all rounder Maze and Hoefl-Riesch who is running out of time to equal Janica Kostelic's Alpine ski record of four Olympic golds.
Many of the slalom specialists have only just set foot in Russia, giving them an edge, according to Fenninger.
"In GS, I have no realistic medal chances. It's not my major motivation," she said after winning the super-G.
"In super combined my slalom was quite good. We'll have to see about the slalom specialists, they've had their home comforts and better preparation."
What awaits the late arrivals might not be quite to their liking, however, with soft snow conditions likely to continue.
"I'm just trying to get to grips with the summer snow," Austria's Kathrin Zettel told Reuters after her first practice.
"But it is what is."
As the Games draw to a close all eyes will be on American teenager Mikaela Shiffrin, one of the most consistent performers in the slaloms during this season's World Cup.
Though Shiffrin leads the slalom rankings with three wins this season, she is taking nothing for granted, a sensible policy after what has happened so far here.
"It's hard for the best skier or the fastest skier to actually win," she told a news conference.
"It's different for the ones who people think they don't have a chance. It's easier for them because they never had that chance. All of a sudden, at the Olympics, they are ready to go just as they always have been."
(Correct nationality of Rebensburg to German in fifteenth paragraph)
(Editing by Mitch Phillips/Keith Weir)
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