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Olympics: Austria under fire in men's team ski jump

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Austria will be looking to extend their dominance in the men's ski jumping team event on Monday, but could well be toppled from their throne by in-form Slovenia.

The alpine nation, boasting stars like Thomas Morgenstern, Gregor Schlierenzauer and Thomas Diethart, go into the event having won gold at the last two Olympics and at every world championship since 2005.

At World Cup level however, they have struggled in the past two years.

At the start of the season, they even finished a shocking fifth in Klingenthal -- their worst result since 2004 -- before coming back to third last month in Zakopane, Poland.

Meanwhile Slovenia, assisted by World Cup number two Peter Prevc -- already a double Olympic medallist after individual silver on the normal hill and bronze on the large hill -- has coolly moved up to win the last three World Cup races.

"We will try," Prevc vowed after taking his second medal on Saturday, promising to remain focused. "There will be no celebrations, at least until Monday, then we will see."

Germany should never be discounted, with two second-place finishes this year, and Japan, buoyed by veteran Noriaki Kasai's silver medal on Saturday, are also in the running for a podium finish.

Winners of the mixed team event in Lillehammer in December and at last year's world championships, they will have to do without the women this time.

But Kasai and his colleagues Taku Takeuchi, Daiki Ito and Reruhi Shimizu proved they were strong contenders, all finishing within the top 13 in Saturday's large hill individual event.

Whether double Olympic champion Kamil Stoch can help Poland to a win and pocket his third gold in Sochi, making the first ski jumping clean sweep since Finland's Matti Nykanen in 1988, remains to be seen.

"It will be difficult, really difficult because the level is really high right now. A lot of teams are jumping really well. We are going to do our best and see what happens," Stoch said after winning his second gold on Saturday.

"I really would like to have a third gold medal but it will be hard to win any medal."

Worryingly for Austria, triple Olympic champion Morgenstern finished a poor 40th on Saturday and failed to qualify for the final round, as did his teammate Diethart, who shot to stardom earlier this year when he won the prestigious Four Hills tournament.

Morgenstern suffered two serious crashes in December and January and was long uncertain for the Games.

But he remained confident ahead of the team event: "I'm looking forward to it, it is a new day, a new competition, with new conditions. We will see."

He and record World Cup winner Schlierenzauer, who has been struggling this season, were already part of the Olympic gold team in Vancouver 2010.

The men's ski jumping team event kicks of on Tuesday at 9:15pm (1715GMT).

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140216/olympics-austria-under-fire-mens-team-ski-jump