KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — He's the scariest slider in skeleton, bar none.
Latvia's Martins Dukurs makes sliders shake on their sleds.
"He's definitely in guys' heads," said U.S. team member John Daly of Smithtown, N.Y. "He's always a factor."
And, almost always a champion.
Dukurs, who missed winning his country's first gold medal in a Winter Olympics at Vancouver four years ago by 0.007 seconds, will take the track at the Sanki Sliding Center on Friday as the one to beat.
Rarely, if ever, does anyone catch Dukurs. When he loses, and that's not often, either, it's usually because he's made a mistake.
He won six of the eight races he entered during the World Cup season, with both losses coming on U.S. soil — a second-place finish at Park City, Utah, and an eighth in Lake Placid, N.Y. Other than those two blemishes, Dukurs was nearly perfect and got better as the season wore on.
In his final 10 heats, Dukurs was only beaten once and that was by his brother, Tomass, who has a strong chance of finding his way onto the podium as well.
Daly and his American teammates Matt Antoine of Colorado Springs, Colo., and Kyle Tress of Ewing, N.J., study film of Dukurs' runs intently, hoping that by watching him they can pick up pointers and maybe find some of the speed that the two-time world champion seems to find in every track he slides.
"People are always watching him when they go down," said Daly, who finished 17th in Vancouver. "They want to see what time he's going to put down. They compare your time to his immediately. He's always going to be a factor and it's kind of about how much you can block him out.
"But for me, Kyle and Matt, when we put our helmets on, we can't hear a thing. It's us and the track. If he's in my head then, there's nothing I can do."
Here are five things to watch in the two-day men's skeleton event:
THREE AMIGOS: Antoine, Daly and Tress came into the sport together in 2002, all inspired by American Jimmy Shea winning gold at the Salt Lake Games. The U.S. hasn't won a medal since, but Antoine, who has overcome a serious knee injury, won the World Cup event in Lake Placid and had two other podium finishes this season.
HOME-ICE ADVANTAGE: Russia's Alexander Tretiakov won the 2013 world championship and knows every crevice and curve of the Sanki track. A bronze medalist in Vancouver, Tretiakov can become just the third skeleton racer to win multiple Olympic medals, joining Switzerland's Gregor Staehli and American John Heaton.
ROMMEL'S RETURN: Frank Rommel was in danger of being left off Germany's team after a sub-par World Cup season, but the three-time Olympian was chosen by coaches and could be in the medal mix. He finished seventh at Vancouver.
DR. ICE: At least Britain's Kristin Bromley has a backup plan when his sliding career ends. Bromley has a Ph.D. in materials engineering, a degree he earned after writing a thesis entitled, "Factors Affecting the Performance of Skeleton Bobsleigh." Bromley is the long-time partner of women's skeleton racer Shelley Rudman.
SLOPPY SURFACE?: Warm weather conditions haven't seemed to affect Sanki's track, but after four luge competitions and bobsled training, the surface is expected to start showing some wear and tear.