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Let’s dance: it’s slalom time on the ski slopes

February 20, 2014

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Let’s dance.

It’s time for skiers to wiggle their way through tightly set slalom gates under the lights at the Sochi Games.

The women’s slalom is set for Friday night followed by the men’s race Saturday night.

American teenager Mikaela Shiffrin and overall World Cup leader Marcel Hirscher of Austria are the clear favorites.

Here are five things to know about Alpine skiing entering the final two races of the games:

MAZE BIDS FOR THREE: Tina Maze of Slovenia heads into the slalom with a chance to become only the second woman in Olympic history with three Alpine golds at a single Winter Olympics. Janica Kostelic of Croatia did it in 2006.

Maze already won the downhill and giant slalom in Sochi. She also pushed Shiffrin during the 2012-13 World Cup season for the slalom title. It came down to the last race, when Shiffrin took first place and Maze was third.

“She has so much power in her turns. She doesn’t ever stop skiing. She just goes. She goes down the hill as fast as she possibly can, and I learned from that throughout last season and this season,” Shiffrin said. “I don’t think I have a big advantage against her, and I don’t think she has an advantage against me. We’re just two girls who want to win.”

CRAZY DOGS: When Austria’s Marcel Hirscher won the slalom title before 50,000 ski-mad fans on home snow at last season’s world championships in Schladming, it was an impressive display of performing under pressure.

Recalling that race at the beginning of this season, Hirscher likened it to a pretty scary scene.

“If you’re standing in front of a big, big, huge wall, and you have no opportunity to climb up there, and then behind you, there are a hundred crazy dogs who want to eat you up, then you have to go for your life,” he said.

Saturday’s slalom could be low-key in comparison to the Schladming race, but Hirscher remains the favorite. After all, he’s also won seven of 18 World Cup slalom races over this season and last.

YOUTH MOVEMENT: At 18, Shiffrin has a chance to become the youngest women’s slalom champion in Olympic history.

Paoletta Magoni of Italy was 19½ when she won the slalom at the 1984 Sarajevo Games.

The youngest Olympic Alpine champion in any discipline was Michela Figini of Switzerland, who won the Sarajevo downhill a month shy of her 18th birthday.

RIESCH RACES: Defending champion Maria Hoefl-Riesch will race the slalom despite being slowed by a cold and breathing problems.

Germany’s Alpine spokesman Ralph Eder said that Hoefl-Riesch trained Thursday and is planning to compete after sitting out Tuesday’s giant slalom.

Hoefl-Riesch already has one gold and one silver medal from these games, along with two golds from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. She won the super-combined here and finished second to Anna Fenninger of Austria in the super-G.

One more gold for Hoefl-Riesch would equal Croatian great Janica Kostelic’s record of four career Olympic titles.

UKRAINIAN WITHDRAWS: Ukraine will not be represented in the women’s slalom.

That’s because Bogdana Matsotska has withdrawn from the Olympics in response to the deaths of anti-government protesters in her country.

“I don’t want to participate when in my country people die,” Bogdana Matsotska told The Associated Press.

Matsotska wants to leave the Olympics immediately to join protesters in the camp known as Maidan in Kiev’s Independence Square, but said she has been unable to book a flight home.

“I am in Maidan but just with my soul,” she said.

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