CHRIS DUFRESNE

Sochi Olympics: Ted Ligety to the rescue in super combined?

U.S. Alpine skiers are off to slow start, but Ted Ligety is medal favorite in men's super combined. Bode Miller is also competing.

SOCHI, Russia — There is a compelling race taking place in the mountains that has nothing to do with Austrians, timing devices or finish lines.

It's the mad dash to complete the Olympic Alpine events before the snow melts and Rosa Khutor becomes a water slide.

The hill has held up well through three Alpine races thanks to meticulous course grooming and the injection of hardening agents (salt).

FRAMEWORK: Best images from Sochi

The downhill portion of Friday's men's super-combined race, however, has been moved from 11 a.m. to 10 a.m. in the hope one less hour of sunlight will help keep the track firm.

The snow is as soft as America's start in Alpine but, with seven events remaining, the super combined could provide a much-needed kick-start.

The last two Olympic winners in the event — Ted Ligety in 2006 and Bode Miller in 2010 — ski for the U.S.

Four Alpine gold medals have been handed out in Sochi and the United States hasn't come close to a sniff.

An Austrian won the men's downhill, a German won the women's super combined and racers from Slovenia and Switzerland tied in the women's downhill.

The best the U.S. has managed was Julia Mancuso's surprise bronze in the women's super combined.

Miller and Mancuso finished a disappointing eighth in the downhill after dominating the hill in practice rounds.

Help is on the way, though. Ligety arrived midweek in Sochi after training in Austria. He is a medal contender in combined and super-G and the prohibitive gold-medal favorite in giant slalom.

Ligety swept all three events at last year's World Championships in Austria.

This isn't the same Olympic "combined" event Ligety won in 2006. There were two slalom runs then, now there is one.

It was thought two slalom runs gave too much advantage to the technical skiers.

The change would have doomed Ligety in 2006, but he has become a better all-event racer.

"I'm a much better downhill skier than I was then and probably a worse slalom skier than I was then," he said. "I've kind of evened my skill base out a little."

The top racers think soft snow will favor the technical skiers on Friday because the speed racers will have a tougher time negotiating a slippery slalom.

"It's a short downhill and a difficult slalom," Switzerland's Carlo Janka explained after Thursday's training run.

That is probably better news for Ligety than Miller, the defending Olympic champion.

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