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The pressure is on for favourites Ted Ligety and Alexis Pinturault in the men's super-combined on Friday, after relatively poor finishes in the downhill left them needing a strong slalom to make the podium.
Norway's Kjetil Jansrud, fresh from a downhill bronze medal five days ago, clocked the fastest time down the Rosa Khutor course at 1min 53.24.
He was followed by Czech skier Ondrej Bank at 0.14sec and Sunday's Olympic downhill champion Matthias Mayer of Austria at 0.37sec.
US hot shot Ligety and French young gun Pinturault, meanwhile, were 18th and 23rd on a course that gradually softened due to warm temperatures.
Croatian veteran Ivica Kostelic, combined Olympic and world silver medallist, finished in a strong seventh place.
"It's not really that great when the early guys have harder snow than the later guys," Ligety, who started in 22nd place, admitted.
"It definitely affected times, the guys who started early with faster start intervals had a little bit of an advantage."
Organisers had already moved the start of the downhill forward by an hour to 10:00am (0600GMT) due to the spring-like temperatures.
But Ligety, a four-time world champion and 2006 combined Olympic champion, was confident of making up nearly two seconds on the leader in the slalom.
"Two seconds is not that much to make up on downhill skiers."
"Two seconds on Ivica's tough for sure, but in slalom there can be huge swings very quickly. I'm happy being not too far behind.
"I would have liked to be closer to Ivica and would have liked to have been a little bit more ahead of Alexis but I think I'm still in a good position."
At 2.44sec behind Jansrud, 22-year-old Pinturault, also felt he still had good chances.
- In running for a podium -
"Maybe if I'd had an earlier start, it would have been better. But I'm still in the running at least for a podium."
"I'm going to concentrate on the slalom, on myself and we'll see when I reach the bottom if I've caught up with them," he said of his rivals.
A lot hangs on the second run, which will start at 3:30pm (1130GMT).
"In combined, the slalom is two thirds (of the race)," noted Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal, who was sixth after the first run and could be looking at another medal to add to his three from Vancouver.
His teammate Jansrud was satisfied after the first run.
"I had a good run, not too many mistakes, kept my line. Overall I'm happy with my time. It's going to be tough but I will do my best," he said of the upcoming slalom.
For him, top contenders for a medal included 33-year-old Bank and his Norwegian teammate Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, who was fourth after the downhill.
Bank, looking ahead to the slalom, noted: "I feel pretty confident."
"My slalom is ok, sometimes fast, sometimes slow. Who knows?"
"Maybe it's better not thinking now," he said with a grin.
US star Bode Miller, looking to make up for a disappointing eighth place in the downhill, was 12th after making a costly mistake on the course.
"The mistake I made cost me. I had to take maximum risk with my start position.
But he still vowed to push hard in the slalom: "You've got to attack 100 percent. It's going to be a challenge, let's hope it holds up."