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Alpine skiing: Maze out to defend giant slalom crown

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Tina Maze will not leave the world ski championships with five medals as she had hoped, but the in-form Slovenian is firm favourite to defend her giant slalom title on Thursday.

The 29-year-old, also the Olympic silver medallist, has made every giant slalom podium this season and is the runaway leader in the World Cup rankings in that discipline.

With seven wins for a total 17 podiums in all five alpine skiing disciplines since October, she has also proven that she can live up to high expectations.

"I know how to deal with that kind of big pressure, coming there as a favourite and producing wins," she said going into the two-week world championships in Schladming.

Her super-G gold and super-combined silver last week proved that, although she had a disappointing downhill, finishing just seventh.

In the opening race of the championships, the Slovenian had mastered difficult foggy conditions and hours of uncertainty over whether the race would even start to take the super-G title on a course that got the best of many top contenders.

Behind her, the field of rivals on Thursday is much wider, with Austrians Kathrin Zettel and Anna Fenninger in second and third position in the giant slalom World Cup rankings, although nowhere near Maze.

Germany's Olympic champion Viktoria Rebensburg will also be looking to make good after a disappointing super-G run, in which she was one of the favourites.

Her giant slalom win on the same Planai course just a year ago in the World Cup finals might well play in her favour.

The Austrians, who have had some weight lifted off their shoulders following a long hoped-for second medal on Monday, have shut themselves up in their castle-on-a-hill hotel to focus and enjoy some peace and quiet away from the demanding public.

The 26-year-old Zettel, as a result, appeared completely relaxed ahead of the giant slalom.

"I've prepared well, it's certainly not impossible to be in the running for a medal," she said.

"There have been some surprises and non-favourites have won medals," she said of her chances at the world championships, which have seen troubled French skier Marion Rolland take downhill gold, and Germany's Hoefl-Riesch top the super-combined podium despite a relatively poor season.

"I already have gold, now I'll just try and do it nice and easy," concluded 2009 combined world champion and defending slalom silver-medallist Zettel.

Her teammate Fenninger added: "My technique is good... the pistes in the last few World Cup were always different and I was always near the top in the results. So I'm well armed."

The women's super-G will play out over two runs, as is the norm, with the first run at 10:00am (0900GMT), and a second one at 1:30pm.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130212/alpine-skiing-maze-out-defend-giant-slalom-crown