- Alpine Skiing
Who will be crowned Alpine king of the hill in Sochi?
Bode Miller is ready to hurl his aging body down an Olympic ski slope in search of one more medal and Norwegian giant Aksel Lund Svindal is looking for another gold to stash in his father's basement.
Marcel Hirscher can restore the Olympic pride of the Austrian men's team, so battered at the Vancouver Games four years ago, but American Ted Ligety plans to keep him off the top step of the podium.
The Alpine skiing program in Sochi has plenty of compelling story lines, starting with the showcase men's downhill on Feb. 9 on the Rosa Khutor piste designed by Switzerland's 1972 champion Bernhard Russi.
Embedded video_content_type: On the edge: Bode Miller
Who will be king of the hill this time remains an open question.
If Miller were to defy his 36 years, and overcome knee injury, to grab another gold in his fifth Winter Games - after his 2010 super combined - then the U.S. team's great showman would become the oldest Olympian to win a men's Alpine title.
He was second in a giant slalom in Beaver Creek in December, fifth in the Wengen downhill this month and has said he means to 'kick ass' in Sochi - even if triple world champion team mate Ligety's form puts him in the shade.
"It is a perishable process being a ski racer and I think until you are all rotten and shriveled up you should keep going," Miller said last year. "I'm pretty shriveled up but I'm not all the way rotten."
Embedded video_content_type: Ted Ligety: Adrenaline junkie
Ligety kept him off the top of the podium in Beaver Creek and the younger American has made the giant his number one goal of the Games, even if he is also a favorite in super-combined and super-G.
"I'll go there to win three medals, maybe not all gold," said Ligety in Wengen this month. "But I like the course, it reminds me of Beaver Creek."
Miller will not be the only veteran looking to go out with a flourish.
Croatia's Ivica Kostelic - brother of retired four times Olympic gold medalist Janica and the 2010 slalom and super combined silver medalist - is still in with a shout at 34.
Embedded video_content_type: The mystique of the start house
Svindal will be in the way of all of them, arriving on top of the World Cup and as defending Olympic super-G champion with downhill silver and giant slalom bronze from the 2010 Whistler slopes also in his collection.
Now 31 and with five world championship golds in his collection, Svindal has huge reserves of mental strength and loves the Olympic atmosphere. So much so, that the actual medals are almost secondary.
"It's kind of embarrassing, but they are in my dad's basement somewhere," he said in a recent video interview on the International Ski Federation website.
"Having the medals, so you can look at them every day, it's not important to me. It's the memories from when you got it. That's what's important."
Embedded owg_slideshow: Aksel Lund Svindal: Made of medal
Swiss Didier Defago, the man who beat Svindal to downhill gold by 0.07 seconds in Whistler four years ago, will fancy one final fling after a surprise return to form for the 36-year-old in Kitzbuehel on Sunday where he won the super-G.
If the weather holds up and there are no security nightmares, Svindal will have all the ingredients to provide some of the memorable moments of the Games.
But even if he is a favorite for the downhill, as world champion, there are no surefire bets in a race renowned over the years for going against the odds and crowning less-fancied racers who simply put it all together on the day.
The Austrians know that well enough.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Marcel Hirscher: Dominant 2013
In Whistler, the sport's dominant nation came and went without a single men's medal - for the first time since 1936 - in a shock comparable to Brazil exiting the soccer World Cup without winning a match.
Hirscher, now the slalom world champion and two times overall World Cup champion, made his Olympic debut as a 20-year-old in 2010 and finished fourth in the giant slalom won by Switzerland's Carlo Janka.
Compatriot Benjamin Raich was also fourth in the slalom won by Italian Giuliano Razzoli and Mario Scheiber came fourth in downhill.
This time around, Hirscher is one of his country's biggest hopes as the man to beat in slalom and Ligety's main rival in the giant.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Spotlight: Benjamin Raich
"When I skied my first Olympics, Marcel was probably still jumping around in a playground," said Miller in December, before going on to recognize just how much further Ligety and Hirscher had developed the technical disciplines.
Other men to watch include 22-year-old Frenchman Alexis Pinturault, currently third in the overall World Cup after securing his country's first win of the season in the Wengen slalom in January.
"When he skis at 100 percent and doesn't make any mistake, he's unstoppable," said Hirscher of a rival who will also pose a big threat in giant slalom.
The slalom is a ferocious field with Austria's Mario Matt, Sweden's Mattias Hargin and Germany's Felix Neureuther all pushing Hirscher hard this season.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Spotlight: Alexis Pinturault
Switzerland's Patrick Kueng is another solid medal prospect in super-G and downhill.
Canada, without an Olympic men's Alpine medal since Ed Podivinsky powered to a downhill bronze in 1994, have real hopes of ending that long wait with 2011 downhill world champion Erik Guay on consistent form.
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