Alpine skiing: Six to watch out for at World Ski Championships

Some 650 athletes from 70 nations will converge on the Austrian resort of Schladming for the World Ski Championships on February 4-17, but here are a few to look out for:

MARCEL HIRSCHER (AUT): The current, uncontested star in men's alpine skiing, the 23-year old from Annaberg will be fired up for the two-week ski fest on home snow after thundering wins in Kitzbuehel and Moscow last week.

The young Austrian came fourth in the giant slalom at the 2009 World Championships in Val d'Isere but was missing in Garmisch two years later.

Leading in the overall and slalom World Cup rankings, he could now take home his first world championship medals in Schladming, on a course where he won twice a year ago.

Hirscher caused a sensation at the end of last season when he came from behind to snatch the overall World Cup trophy by a narrow margin, having already secured the giant slalom crystal globe.

Swamped with media attention and the expectations of a ski-obsessed nation ever since, he has warned however not to take victory in any discipline in Schladming for granted.

TINA MAZE (SLO): Races that ended without the Slovenian ace on the podium have been few and far between this season, with eight World Cup victories and 18 top-three finishes so far.

The 29-year-old will now be looking to defend her 2011 giant slalom title in Schladming, but the ambitious all-rounder and double Olympic silver-medallist no doubt has her sights set on further trophies.

Her fantastic form has given her a whopping lead in the overall World Cup rankings with 1,694 points - more than double the 806 points of her nearest competitor, Germany's Maria Hoefl-Riesch.

But the return to the top of US ski star Lindsey Vonn, who has had an up-and-down season including illness and a one-month break, will ensure fierce competition over the next two weeks.

AKSEL LUND SVINDAL (NOR): A four-time world champion, two-time overall World Cup winner and Olympic champion in the super-G, the 30-year-old Norwegian has been a constant fixture on the podiums for more than seven years.

In Schladming, he will be defending his 2009 and 2011 gold medals in the combined and could go for the super-G and downhill titles as well. With three wins this season, most recently in Kitzbuehel, he leads the super-G World Cup rankings, and is second in the downhill and overall.

ITALY MEN'S TEAM: At the 2011 World Championships in Garmisch, they took five of the 15 medals on offer with Christof Innerhofer pocketing three of them: gold in the super-G, silver in the super combined and bronze in the downhill.

With two World Cup wins this season and a strong third place in Kitzbuehel last weekend, the 28-year-old could now add to his medal collection in Schladming.

Dominik Paris, fresh off two downhill wins in Bormio and Kitzbuehel and leading the World Cup rankings in that discipline, is also a strong contender, while 2011 medallists Manfred Moelgg and Peter Fill could step up their performances for the biennial event.

MIKAELA SHIFFRIN (USA): At just 17, the US skier has caught everyone's attention this season with a first World Cup win in Are in December, followed by two more victories within a month, handing her the lead in the slalom rankings.

During Vonn's absence, she quickly established herself as the shooting star of the US ski team and after a third place in Moscow on Tuesday, she has a strong chance of a world championship medal in the slalom.

MARIA HOEFL-RIESCH (GER): Despite just two podium finishes this season, including a win, the former overall World Cup winner and current runner-up from Germany often delivers the goods in big events.

A double Olympic champion in Vancouver, she also grabbed slalom gold at the world championships in Val d'Isere in 2009 and bronze in the super-G and downhill two years later.