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OLYMPIC REVIEW71 FORMGUIDE coveted overall crown last season, finishing second in the distance event standings behind Italian Pietro Piller Cottrer with Norway's Petter Northug, Sami Jauhojaervi of Finland and Czech Lukas Bauer filling out the top five. Another Norwegian, Ola Vigen Hattestad, won the World Cup sprint crown and topped the season's overall victory tally with six. Going on last season's overall World Cup results, the women's cross- country could be just as tightly contested. In another historic first, Justyna Kowalczyk won the women's overall World Cup title for Poland last season, finishing ahead of Slovenian Petra Majdic in a thrilling final weekend. While Majdic is a sprint specialist, Kowalczyk is a big favourite in the distance events where she will be closely marked by Finland's Aino Kaisa Saarinen, a three time world champion in 2009 who finished third overall and runner- up in the distance standings in last season's World Cup. Ski jumping at the Games has been notoriously difficult to predict. During the Salt Lake City Games in 2002, Swiss Simon Ammann stunned a host of bigger favourites, such as Poland's Adam Malysz, to claim gold in both the normal hill and the large hill. Four years later, Austria's Thomas Morgenstern came to the Games with only two victories from a total of seven podium places in 22 World Cup competitions that season, but stole the show in Turin by winning gold in large hill and helping Austria to gold in the team event. In Vancouver, Morgenstern is likely to face a strong challenge from the ever- present Norwegians and Finns who over the years have taken the sport to new heights. Norway's Lars Bystoel, no longer competing, won normal hill gold and bronze in the large hill in Turin and helped Norway to bronze in the team event. Finn Matti Hautamaeki won silver in the normal hill, and another in the team event. Morgenstern's biggest threat, however, could come from teammate Gregor Schlierenzauer, who beat Ammann to the overall World Cup crown in 2009. In the new Olympic sport of ski cross, there is arguably no one happier than Ophelie David. The Frenchwoman has won the ski cross World Cup for the last six consecutive seasons. Canada will be looking to Alexandre Bilodeau and Steve Omischl to provide medals in the freestyle after the pair won World Cup titles in the moguls and aerials respectively in 2009. When alpine skiing's famous " white circus" rolls up in Whistler, a determined team of Canadians will be bidding to upset the form book by grabbing their share of the 30 medals on offer. But despite the best intentions of home athletes such as Canada's world downhill champion John Kucera - and the likelihood of a few surprise results - a number of near certain gold medal contenders stick out from the rest. American Lindsey Vonn has swept all before her the past two seasons, winning world titles in the downhill and super- G in 2009. Vonn has pinpointed Germany's Maria Riesch as perhaps her biggest rival, although Austria's Kathrin Zettel, Swiss starlet Lara Gut and Italian Nadia Fanchini are all solid bets to steal some of the limelight. The Games have never been a happy hunting ground for Vonn's compatriot, the unpredictable Bode Miller, who will have a fight on his hands against Norway's reigning overall and super- G World Cup champion Aksel Lund Svindal, and Switzerland's giant slalom title winner Didier Cuche. In the slalom and super combined events, look out for Austrian Benjamin Raich, Croatian Ivica Kostelic, American Ted Ligety and French slalom king Jean- Baptiste Grange. A total of 36 medals will be on offer during the 12- event cross- country programme at nearby Whistler Olympic Park, and with only one chance to get it right on the day the pre- race favourites could find themselves under extra pressure. Swiss ace Dario Cologna caused an upset by winning the men's SPORTS PROFILES

72OLYMPIC REVIEW LINDSEY VONN ( USA) REIGNING DOWNHILL & SUPER- G WORLD CHAMPION DARIO COLOGNA ( SUI) CROSS- COUNTRY SKIING WORLD CUP CHAMPION What does it mean to you to be heading into the Vancouver Games after having been so successful in recent years? It really means a lot to me. While it's not the United States, Vancouver is in North America and in some ways feels like a hometown Games. It's easier for family and friends to get there, so I think we'll be seeing a lot of American fans in the stands. My mum already has her strategy planned out. Although you are one of the few skiers able to excel in all five disciplines, you focus this season on further improving in the slaloms? I'm not going to do anything particularly different this season in my technical preparation. Last season I was able to win my first slalom and improve my giant slalom, so I'm going to continue to work on those disciplines as well as downhill and super- G. I did switch skis and the transition has been excellent. I'm looking to see that translate into my skiing as well. What are your thoughts on the course in Whistler, and who do you expect to be fighting for medals there? Whistler is a great race hill. I was able to secure my first World Cup downhill title there during the Olympic test event so I know I can be fast there. But there are going to be a lot of girls fighting for the podium. Maria Riesch is for sure my biggest competitor, but Anja Paerson is still fast and there's a lot of younger racers gaining speed in a big hurry. It will be exciting. After your historic overall World Cup victory, how do you feel about your chances of striking gold in Vancouver? My preparations are going great despite having to deal with a little injury niggle on my leg at the moment. That aside, my confidence is flying. Even if I'm told I have to rest two to three weeks because of the injury, I still have plenty of time to prepare for the Games. How have you adapted your training methods for the Games, and have you had a chance to race at the Olympic sites? Preparations with my coach Frederik Aukland are going as well as they usually do, and we haven't really made many changes. Unfortunately I haven't had a chance to see the Olympic venues. Switzerland is historically better known for its alpine champions. Tell us why you decided to specialise in cross- country, and can we expect to see other big Swiss champions like yourself in the near future? Like most kids I also started out on alpine skis but cross- country always fascinated me, and once I started I just couldn't stop. I hope, thanks to my success, young Swiss kids realise that anything is possible and that it's not just the Norwegians and other Nordic nations who are strong in this sport. OPHÉLIE DAVID ( FRA) SIX- TIME SKI CROSS WORLD CUP CHAMPION After dominating the ski cross World Cup, how excited are you about its inclusion in the Olympic Games? It gives us a chance to showcase our sport to the world. I'm preparing for the season just as I always do - we can't forget there's still the World Cup competitions to contend. The only thing I'm trying to do is learn how to deal with the extra levels of expectation that are slowly growing around me. For those who don't know ski cross well, can you give us a brief description of the sport? Ski cross is like motorcross, so you have to have a really fast start and ski aggressively all the way. We use super fast skis ( usually giant slalom skis) and while there are a lot of aspects under our control, there are others we can't and that's when you have to let instinct take over, and perhaps take a few risks. With spectacular crashes, overtaking and a complete turnaround of the race situation, ski cross is worthy of a Hollywood script. Have you tested the course at Whistler. Does it suit some athletes more than others? Last year we raced on the Olympic course at Cypress Mountain. While it's a great venue with superb views, the course itself is very up and down with a lot of jumps. We often had our legs in the air more than on the snow! When it comes to an Olympic final it will suit everybody. Sometimes you get complete outsiders creating huge surprises, so you don't think. You just get out there and rip it up! SPORTS PROFILES