- Associated Press - Sunday, February 9, 2014

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) - Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany captured Olympic super-combined gold four years ago with good friend and rival Lindsey Vonn in the field.

This time, there’s no Vonn - she’s recuperating from knee surgery - and Hoefl-Riesch is an even bigger favorite Monday in an event that combines the times of a downhill and a slalom run.

“It would be perfect for me if I make a medal there, because then the pressure is (off) a little bit,” Hoefl-Riesch said.

Her top competitors will likely be Tina Maze of Slovenia, along with Austrian teammates Nicole Hosp and Anna Fenninger.

Don’t count out American Julia Mancuso, who thrives at the Olympics.

Hoefl-Riesch and Vonn had quite a showdown in 2010. Vonn led after the downhill, but skied out in the slalom. Hoefl-Riesch wound up with the first of her two Vancouver golds.

Here are a five things to know ahead of the first women’s Alpine race of the Sochi Games:


STEPPING UP: Mancuso hasn’t been on the World Cup podium all season and hasn’t raced a competitive slalom in almost a year. Still, she will be among the medal contenders in the super-combined simply because the skier from Squaw Valley, Calif., always seems to shine at major competitions.

Mancuso won a silver medal in the event in Vancouver and is the most decorated female Olympic skier in American history with three medals, including gold in the giant slalom at the 2006 Turin Games. She hasn’t trained a lot of slalom but said, “I skied a lot of slalom growing up, so just kind of go back to those roots.”

ON A ROLL: Marie-Michele Gagnon of Canada feels she’s a work in progress, because “I’m not much of a downhiller yet.” She did win the only super-combined so far on the women’s World Cup circuit, holding off Michaela Kirchgasser of Austria and Hoefl-Riesch a month ago in Austria.

In that race, Gagnon made up ground in the slalom, which could be her strong suit in Krasnaya Polyana. “I’m just going to perform at my best, try to perform at my best and we’ll see what happens,” she said.

GIVING IT A TRY: Even though Americans Leanne Smith, Laurenne Ross and Stacey Cook are considered downhill specialists, they’re brushing up their slalom skis for Sochi. “I’m bringing it. Watch out!” Cook said.

MAZE’S MAGIC: Maze sees this hill as very similar to the downhill course the skiers run in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. That’s good for her, because the reigning World Cup champion got her confidence back on that hill a few weeks ago by winning the downhill. “There are a lot of waves like in Cortina and then two or three steep curves. But the rest of it isn’t that difficult,” Maze said.

PEDAL TO THE MEDAL?: Turns out, Hoefl-Riesch’s day doesn’t end after a few training runs. Once she finishes skiing, she heads to the gym. “I’m always on the bike in the afternoon to re-energize,” she said.


AP Sports Writers Howard Fendrich, Andrew Dampf and Graham Dunbar contributed to this report.

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