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Olympics: Hoefl-Riesch looms in Vonn's downhill absence


There is a notable absentee from Wednesday's Olympic downhill: US speed queen and media darling Lindsey Vonn, blowing the field wide open for a successor to the title she took in Vancouver in 2010.

Vonn suffered a horrific crash at the opening super-G at the world championships last year and wisely opted for further surgery following an unsatisfactory bid at a comeback on the World Cup circuit this season.

Germany's Maria Hoefl-Riesch is ready to take the crown left by her American rival and friend, in storming form to top the World Cup overall and downhill standings so far this season.

Should Hoefl-Riesch claim victory, it would draw her level with now-retired Croatian Janica Kostelic's record of four Olympic golds.

Her not-so-shabby skills in the technical events were also on full display when she powered to victory in Monday's super-combined, the opening event of the women's Olympic alpine skiing programme.

The 29-year-old German added that it was tough to cross over all five disciplines, but there was a hidden warning given the amount of speed racing she has done in the last month.

"It's not easy, and sometimes I don't race so well," Hoefl-Riesch said.

"For example, in January we had (the World Cup event in) Bormio and after that for three weeks I had just speed races. I was on the downhill skis every day."

Her coach Wolfgang Maier said Hoefl-Riesch's golden performance in the super-combined, comprised of a downhill and a slalom run, was the perfect tonic.

"There was a lot of tension in the German team, which is always the case with big races. Our girls were not doing great in the downhill training, but Maria did a perfect job and she really deserved to win," Maier said.

"We can approach the remaining races more relaxed now. If a race doesn't go well, it won't matter because we already have a gold medal."

Among Hoefl-Riesch's main rivals will be a couple of racers who disappointed on Monday, including Austrian pin-up Anna Fenninger.

Fenninger finished eighth in the super-combined but said she had gleaned valuable information for the downhill, saying Hoefl-Riesch and a further predictable trio would also be in the running for top spot on the podium.

"In the downhill (of the super-combined), I got a lot of information on things I can do differently on Wednesday, so I am optimistic," she said.

"Maria Hoefl-Riesch is always there, Julia Mancuso, Tina Maze and Elisabeth Goergl also. If it's sunny, then maybe I will do well."

Mancuso snatched bronze in the combined thanks to a fastest downhill run, a warning for allcomers, while Switzerland's Lara Gut, who skied out of the slalom on Monday, might also have something to say about the distribution of medals.

"There's always pressure in every race to do your best," the 29-year-old Mancuso, who won silver in the discipline in Vancouver, said of the downhill.

"Having a good run means I have more confidence going into the downhill. I'll definitely go out there and try to win and try to have a great run like I had today."