Olympics: Trio of faves in Valentine's Day super-combined

ROSA KHUTOR, Russia - US hot shot Ted Ligety, French young gun Alexis Pinturault or Croatian veteran Ivica Kostelic - the order may vary but in all likelihood, these three will grace the Olympic men's super-combined podium on Friday.

Over the past few seasons, the three skiers have shown time and again that they can handle the breakneck speeds of a downhill event and the trickiness of a slalom run, both of which are combined to make this event.

Ligety goes into the Valentine's Day race having won super-combined gold at last year's world championships, where he scored a stunning treble, also taking the super-G and giant slalom titles.

And his form should have his closest rivals more than a little worried.

"I'm feeling similar to how I did last year at the world championships," he said.

"I don't know if it will equal the same result - that would be nice - but I'm definitely feeling like I'm well prepared."

The dynamic American with the easy smile won the first of two super-combined World Cup races this season, in Wengen, Switzerland last month.

But in-form Pinturault, currently third in the World Cup rankings ahead of his US colleague, has been challenging for dominance in the discipline.

The 22-year-old won in Kitzbuehel two weeks ago and has only finished off the podium once in the last six super-combined races.

Crucially, the one race he missed took place in Sochi almost exactly two years ago and was won by the 34-year-old Kostelic, double Olympic silver medallist and two-time World Cup trophy winner in super-combined.

The Croatian veteran will have the benefit of skiing a slalom run set by his father Ante Kostelic and has also had more time to acclimatise in Sochi, where he arrived a week ago.

"I have good feelings," Kostelic said after training on Wednesday.

Ligety and Pinturault only touched down earlier this week, just in time for a first test of the course on Tuesday.

One person who could upset the trio is defending Olympic champion Bode Miller, who will be looking to make up for a disappointing downhill result on Sunday, where he was widely expected to land gold but ended up eighth.

Still, the former "bad boy" of skiing has admitted it will be a challenge.

"It is going to be tough, because of all the good slalom skiers out there.

"The downhill could have done some real separation if the course remained hard and icy," he regretted.

Warmer temperatures have been forecast for Friday and the softer snow could prevent the speed specialists from gaining a crucial lead ahead of the slalom.

For Ligety, the favourites for a medal on Friday were clear: Miller, Pinturault, Kostelic and himself, as well as downhill world champion and super-G Olympic champion Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway.

The race results will be tallied from the times after both runs, with the downhill due to kick off at 11:00am (0700GMT) and the slalom following at 3:00pm.