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Olympics: Test of skills in women's super-combined

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

A demanding downhill that will require ferocious attacking and a little-known slalom will open the women's alpine skiing events on Monday with a wide open field.

After the men's downhill on Sunday, the women will kick off their Olympic campaign with a super-combined -- a discipline combining one downhill run and one slalom.

And the contenders for a medal are many.

Germany's Maria Hoefl-Riesch is defending Olympic champion and a favourite for gold, having also won the world championship title last year in Schladming, Austria.

But Slovenian Tina Maze, last season's World Cup winner in the super-combined, US skier Julia Mancuso -- always a top performer at the Olympics -- and Austrian sweetheart Anna Fenninger could well upset the odds.

The race will test the skiers' technical skills in handling a short course of tightly-laid gates and a 2,700-metre downhill run that leaves nothing to chance.

"You can make a mistake in every turn and the one who makes the fewer mistakes or keeps the skis moving best will win," Hoefl-Riesch predicted after one of three training runs on the downhill course ahead of Monday's event.

"It's extremely icy and with really difficult turns, and then in the so-called flat bit... there's a lot of terrain, lots of rolls and unevenness, so it's not easy to ski."

"I'd say it's worthy of Olympics. I will do everything in my power but it won't be easy."

The double Olympic champion and former overall World Cup winner sat out a third training on Saturday to focus on her slalom skills ahead of Monday.

Maze and Fenninger, winner of Thursday's downhill training and 2011 world champion in super-combined, did the same.

Super-combined races, which test skiers' versatility, are the events least featured at World Cup level, with just two or three races per year.

But for Mancuso, defending Olympic combined silver-medallist, Monday's race could bring a fourth Olympic medal.

"I know anything is possible in that event," she said.

"I just have to really go out and have a good downhill and give everything I can to give some time for the slalom and make it down a clean slalom run."

"I know it's in me, I'm just going to try to do my best and hopefully good things will come."

On the Austrian side, not just Fenninger but teammates Michaela Kirchgasser, Nicole Hosp -- super-combined bronze medallist at last year's world championships -- and two-time world champion Elisabeth Goergl have strong chances.

All have scored super-combined podiums in recent seasons.

But racing on a new hill that many skiers are unfamiliar with will even the playing field a little, Mancuso predicted.

"The hills are new for everybody, it's a little more challenging, there's a lot more focus involved."

Monday's race will kick off with the downhill at 11:00am (0700GMT) followed by the slalom at 3:00pm.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140208/olympics-test-skills-womens-super-combined