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Olympics: Russian skiers hope for Sochi boost

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The Sochi Games started with one Russian racer complaining he had no fans, but the home support of its alpine skiers has since been overwhelming -- and bodes well for the sport's future in the country.

Three Russian skiers have bagged four top 30 finishes in the opening three events at Rosa Khutor to vociferous acclaim from a near-capacity crowd on each occasion.

Russian and Soviet Olympic success has been limited to two alpine skiing medals: Yevgenya Sidorova won slalom bronze in 1956 for the Soviet Union and Svetlana Gladisheva claimed super-G silver for Russia in 1994.

Best hopes of a podium for Russia at their home Games lie with slalom specialist Alexander Khoroshilov.

"What will be here after the Olympics, I hope it will also be a downhill training place for us and also for young skiers, and then maybe in five years we get more downhill skiers in the World Cup," he said.

But Khoroshilov had come into the Games on a bit of a downer when quizzed about his and the sport's popularity in Russia.

"I have no fans in Russia," he said. "It's not very popular on television.

"You can't see the Russian cup or watch the national championships. We have a lot of snow in our country and it is very cold. But it's all about the ice hockey."

Khoroshilov acknowledged that "it would be nice" if Russian President Vladimir Putin came to watch the alpine skiing.

"I think he's a big fan of wrestling... and then maybe skiing," joked the skier. "I've seen him on skis so he supports us, he skis a lot."

Khoroshilov has seen his performances in the World Cup slalom and super-combined improve after starting to train alongside the US team, in Europe during the winter and then New Zealand in the European summer.

"If you are training together with (four-time world champion) Ted Ligety, you start to push more because you can do much better," the 29-year-old Russian said, who finished 12th in the final World Cup slalom before the Games in Schladming.

"We are starting to work and now we have a lot of sportsmen, but they are really young. Maybe for the next Olympics we will have more athletes in the top 10 in the World Cup, and then we can talk about Olympic medals."

Maria Bedareva admitted it was unusual to perform in front of such a large crowd, saying: "There's big support from everyone, from volunteers, from guys who are in the finish. It's so nice and I'm so happy that I'm in my country.

"When we have races in another country, that country is so happy for their athletes. Here there's huge, huge support from everyone, not pushing, just supporting."

She added that Sochi hosting the Games was a massive boost for ski racing.

"Can you imagine how big this is as a commercial? Everyone is here. Athletes from all over the world are here.

"I think there will be a lot of people racing after. Because it's my country, I want to train here, it's better."

Bedareva credited the vocal home support for her 30th place finish in Wednesday's downhill.

"I think things are going to improve across skiing. The Olympic Games are going to boost the sport for sure," she said, hailing the infrastructure now in place in Rosa Khutor.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140213/olympics-russian-skiers-hope-sochi-boost-0