Hirscher eyes Sochi slalom gold as Games wind down
Austria's Marcel Hirscher competes during the Men's Alpine Skiing Giant Slalom run 2, at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Centre, during the Sochi Winter Olympics, on February 19, 2014 - by Fabrice Coffrini
Hirscher, 24, faces likely competition from Felix Neureuther of Germany and Norway's Henrik Kristoffersen but insists he feels no pressure despite finishing fourth in the giant slalom -- a race that was expected to bring him his first Olympic medal.
"The first race is always the most difficult at big events. I feel free," said the current overall, slalom and giant slalom World Cup leader.
"A lot can always happen in the slalom, so I'll try everything and take as many risks as possible, with the knowledge that it could go wrong.
"But really I'm not feeling that much pressure at the moment. I feel lighter than two days ago."
The two-time overall World Cup winner has often complained of huge expectations from his ski-obsessed country, but two Austrian Olympic golds already in alpine skiing have lightened the load.
"The big fear that my head will get chopped off (if I don't win) isn't there," Hirscher said.
Seven golds will be decided on the penultimate day of the Sochi Games with three more to follow on Sunday's last day.
The snowboard and speedskating programmes also end on Saturday.
Gold medallists in the parallel giant slalom, Patrizia Kummer of Switzerland and Russia's American-born Vic Wild, chase their second golds in the newly installed parallel slalom.
The dominant Netherlands, who have won 21 of the 30 medals on offer in men's and women's speed skating, bagging six of the 10 golds so far, are expected to remain on top as the men and women race in team pursuits.
Three biathletes, Ole Einar Bjoerndalen and Norwegian compatriot Emil Hegle Svendsen as well as France's Martin Fourcade will be going for their third gold medals in the men's 4x7.5km relay.
Bjoerndalen on Wednesday won a record 13th medal at the Winter Olympics by taking gold in the mixed event.
The 40-year-old holds the record outright after overtaking his compatriot, the cross country ski legend Bjoern Daehlie, who won 12 medals.
He has also won eight golds at Winter Olympics, equalling Daehlie's record.
"It's cool. It's a big thing for me," said Bjoerndalen of his record medal haul with characteristic understatement.
In cross-country skiing, Poland's Justyna Kowalczyk could become the first woman to retain the 30km mass start free title.