To get a sense of which Alpine ski racers to keep an eye on during the Sochi Olympics, take a look at who is peaking at the right time.
One example: Exactly two weeks before competition is scheduled to begin at the Krasnaya Polyana ski resort, Lara Gut of Switzerland won the last pre-Sochi women's World Cup speed race. Another: The day before Gut's super-G victory, Tina Maze of Slovenia won a downhill, her only first-place finish this season.
Bode Miller, the 36-year-old who grew up in New Hampshire and already owns five Olympic medals, turned in a pair of top-three finishes in a downhill and super-G on Jan. 25-26. His U.S. teammate, 2006 Turin gold medalist Ted Ligety of Park City, Utah, won a giant slalom by 1½ seconds Sunday.
"Hopefully," Ligety said, "I can carry that confidence over the next couple weeks."
With the first Winter Games race — the men's downhill — scheduled for next Sunday, here are five things to know about Alpine skiing:
ALPINE PRIMER: There are speed (downhill, super-G) and technical (slalom, giant slalom) events, plus the super combined, which, as the name implies, combines times from runs of downhill and slalom. Downhill is one run, with the longest course and fastest speeds; men can reach 75 mph. Slalom is two runs — different courses for each — with the shortest length and quickest turns through at least 50 gates. Giant slalom, also known as GS, is also two runs, with fewer gates spaced farther apart. Super-G is one run that's sort of a hybrid of downhill and giant slalom; gates are spaced similarly to a giant slalom but with fewer turns and greater speed; it joined the Olympics in 1988.
SLOPPY SKIING?: Truth is, as U.S. women's Alpine coach Alex Hoedlmoser points out, even the most talented athletes can flop on their sport's most important days, so the skiing in Sochi might not always be of the highest quality. "A lot of people freeze up at big events. It just, like, freaks them out," he says. "In training, we see a lot better skiing a lot of times than we do on the actual race day."
TOP TEENS: Mikaela Shiffrin's name will surely become familiar to U.S. sports fans; the 18-year-old from Colorado is favored in slalom and carries the tag "The Next Lindsey Vonn" (Vonn herself is sidelined after knee surgery). Another teen who could earn a medal: Norway's Henrik Kristoffersen, 19, who won the last pre-Sochi World Cup slalom on Jan. 28. It was his third top-three finish in a slalom during January.