OLYMPICS: Biggest Slovenian Team So Far Looking for First Gold
Ljubljana, 5 February - Slovenia has sent 66 athletes to Sochi, its biggest team to date which includes the ice-hockey squad for the first time and will be looking for the first Slovenian gold medal in Winter Olympics. Skiing star Tina Maze, ski jumpers and alpine snowboarders are considered the main medal favourites.
Slovenian athletes have won a total of eleven Winter Olympic medals so far but no golds. The most successful games were those in Vancouver four years ago with two silvers and one bronze.
It was Maze, last years's overall women's World Cup winner, who won both silvers in Canada and she feels confident ahead of Sochi despite currently ranking 5th in the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup.
Although this has been a lacklustre season for Maze's standards, the 30-year-old won a downhill World Cup race at the end of January and will be seeking her chance in all five disciplines. She won at least once in all five in the 2012/2013 season.
A second spotlight is reserved for the ski jumpers, who managed thirteen individual podium finishes and won both team competitions in what has been their best season to date.
Four different jumpers - Peter Prevc, Robert Kranjec, Jernej Damijan and Jurij Tepeš - have made the top three in individual competitions this season and 21-year-old Prevc is presently ranked second in the World Cup standings.
Prevc, who is determined to keep a cool head despite all the media attention he has been getting, has warned that "the competition will be fierce".
"We only need to look at how many World Cup winners there have been this year. There are at least as many favourites for gold and if we add silver and bronze to that, we get up to 20 or 25 jumpers of this quality," he has told the STA.
The snowboarders are harbouring high hopes as well and at least two athletes, especially the third-ranked in the World Cup Žan Košir, can be counted among the favourites both in the parallel slalom and giant slalom races.
The 29-year-old Košir has been among the top snowboarders the whole season, managing three second place finishes and one fifth place, while Rok Marguč, the reigning parallel slalom world champion, has posted two fourth place finishes.
The shortlist of medal candidates moreover includes biathlete Jakov Fak, who won bronze in Vancouver while still competing for Croatia but has been struggling with health issues for the most part of this season, as well as ski cross skier Filip Flisar, whose performances have however not been on par with those in the past seasons.
Meanwhile, the Sochi Games will be the first Olympic tournament for the Slovenian national men's ice hockey team, a dream-come-true that will see NHL star Anže Kopitar and his team mates compete against the hockey powerhouses US, Russia and Slovakia. The team is captained by Tomaž Razingar, who will bear Slovenia's flag at the opening ceremony.
The 66-member Slovenian team, led by retired cross-country star Petra Majdič, is the biggest so far and expectations are high although officials have been shy about announcing any goals.
Projections coming from abroad indicate Slovenia could win around five medals, with Prevc and Maze highlighted among the key favourites.