On Saturday the Sochi Winter Games will officially begin in full. For 16 days, athletes will compete for 98 gold, silver and bronze.
In our first edition of the ‘Olympic Corner’ we take a look at the medal hopefuls who are expected to shine during the 22nd edition of the Winter Games.
The main candidate for the title of the “ Michael Phelps of Sochi” is Martin Fourcade.
For the past two years, the 25 -year-old Frenchman is the undisputable champ of men’s biathlon.
The two-time World Cup winner, five-time world champion and regular podium finisher will aim for a medal in every single biathlon race in Sochi.
He’ll be the man to beat for the rest of the elite – notably a young and ambitious Russian team, the experienced Swedes and Austrians and of course the omnipresent Norwegian team, which includes the biathlon legend, Ole Einar Bjoerndalen.
It is safe to say 40-year-old Bjoerndalen is past his best, but the six-time Olympic champion is still capable of an upset and winning a couple more of medals to finish his career in style.
Plushenko aims to thrill home crowd
Evgeni Plushenko is already an Olympic champion and two-time silver medallist and on Thursday, after an excellent short program made a serious bid for another medal, this time in the team discipline.
No other skater can boast the same number of Olympic medals as Plushenko in the modern era.
However, to compete for a medal in the men’s singles Plushenko has to raise his game – even for his standards – as he has to beat this season’s form skater Yuzuru Hanyu, a triple world champion in Patrick Chan, and two-time European champion and Spain’s medal hope Javier Fernandez.
Jumping to Olympic heights
With former rally driver Adam Malysz the Polish ski jumping team have got themselves a new hero.
But 26 year-old Kamil Stoch – this season’s World Cup leader – enjoyed a double victory at the final World Cup event before the Olympics in Willingen and is hot favourite.
Who can stop Stoch in his bid for Olympic gold?
Perhaps Simon Ammann? The Swiss was not the favorite at Salt Lake City in 2002, nor in Vancouver 2010.
But at both events won gold.
His ability to prepare himself for the major events will no doubt help him in Sochi.
A new speed Queen waiting to be crowned
The Queen of alpine skiing Lindsey Vonn could not make it to Sochi due to a recurrence of a knee injury.
Her absence has completely changed the balance of power in women’s speed disciplines.
The leading role has been taken over by Vonn’s longtime rival and friend Maria Hofl-Riesch of Germany.
The two-time Olympic champion in Vancouver hopes to add to her collection of medals in the downhill, super-G and super combined .
In 2010 Riesch also won the Olympic slalom, but in Sochi there are other medal contenders in this discipline.
America’s teenage sensation Mikaela Shiffrin is one.
The 18-year-old Colorado native has already quite the track record which includes the world championship title and the small crystal globe.
Her main rival is the most decorated slalom specialist of all time – Marlies Schild of Austria.
Svindal and Ligety gunning for gold
In men’s speed events the skier in pole position for Olympic gold is Sweden’s Axel Lund Svindal.
The Vancouver Olympic champion in the super-G and the current world downhill champion knows better than most how to tackle these speed events.
Others will set the pace in the technical disciplines.
Perhaps no other discipline has such an obvious title contender as Ted Ligety in the giant slalom.
Barring accident it’s highly likely he will fly away from Sochi with gold.
The man to beat in the slalom is Austrian Marcel Hirscher, the overall leader of the World Cup.
Hirscher also won two giant slalom races this season, but both as a result of Ligety crashing out.
Mexican alpine skier Hubertus von Hohenlohe first participated in the Olympics back in Sarajevo 1984 and he’s back again.
He never came close to winning a medal, but the dedication and hard work of this 55-year-old athlete with royal German blood epitomises the Olympic ideals and his ability to dress up for the occasion has made him one of the symbols of the Winter Games.
Russia looking to end Games in style
The ice hockey tournament is the gem of the Winter Olympics and the championship match on the last day of the Games has always been a fine ending to the event.
Fans can expect Russia and Canada to restore old rivalries, led by NHL stars Ovechkin and Crosby, Malkin and Teyvz , Datsyuk and Nash.
However, if these teams become too involved in their old “blood feud”, they risk of letting other contenders squeeze through, the first of which is Sweden. Finland, Czech Republic and the United States also harbour gold-medal winning ambitions.
All this is just a small part of the programme, that Sochi will offer fans.
Stunning and enthralling battles will also unfold in the bobsleigh and luge, snowboarding and freestyle, speed skating and short track.
It’s a 16-day sporting extravaganza not to miss.