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Men's downhill offers thrilling start to Sunday action

Bode Miller of the U.S. skis during the third training session for the men's alpine skiing downhill event at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics
Bode Miller of the U.S. skis during the third training session for the men's alpine skiing downhill event at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics

By Keith Weir

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - American Bode Miller and Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal will start as favorites for what should be a spectacular men's downhill at the Winter Olympics, one of eight medal events in Sochi on Sunday.

The downhill is one of the showcase events of the Games and Swiss 1972 gold medalist Bernhard Russi has designed a suitably challenging course.

Veteran Miller, fastest in the final training session on Saturday, warned the treacherous Rosa Khutor piste "could kill you" after Slovenian Rok Perko crashed heavily and was left with a bloody nose.

Switzerland's Didier Defago, the oldest man in the race at 36, is back to defend his title after a surprise win in Vancouver four years ago.

However, the smart money is on world champion Svindal to improve on his silver from Vancouver or for Miller, another 36-year-old, to add to the super combined title he won in 2010.

Down from the mountains, hosts Russia, Canada and Japan are among the medal hopefuls when the inaugural figure skating team competition reaches it climax in the Iceberg venue.

In the nearby speedskating arena, Czech Martina Sablikova bids to retain the 3,000 meters title she won four years ago. She faces a stern test from Dutchwoman Irene Wust and 41-year-old German Claudia Pechstein, seeking her sixth Olympic gold medal.

On the second full day of competition, the women get the chance to battle for medals in the new slopestyle event after American Sage Kotsenburg won the men's title on Saturday.

Petter Northug could make it a Norwegian double in the cross-country skiathlon following compatriot Marit Bjoergen's victory in the woman's race on Saturday.

German Felix Loch is the man to beat in the luge, while there are also medals on offer in the women's biathlon sprint and ski jumping where Swiss Simon Ammann goes for a fifth career gold.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

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