By Justin Palmer
Jan 31 (Reuters) - Latvia has not won a gold medal at a Winter Olympic Games but Martins Dukurs and his older brother Tomass could end the Baltic nation's wait and stand side-by-side on the podium in Sochi.
After narrowly missing out on gold in Whistler four years ago, Martins, 29, starts as overwhelming favourite to go one better in Russia having pretty much dominated men's skeleton since then.
The younger Dukurs was pipped by Jon Montgomery by seven hundredths of a second - a second successive victory for Canada in the event. Tomass, 32, was just out of the medals in fourth.
Martins has been the overall World Cup winner for five successive seasons and underlined he will be the man to beat when he broke the track record at Konigssee, Germany, last weekend - his sixth success out of eight races this winter.
Tomass finished second in the standings having only twice missed a podium finish while American Matt Antoine enhanced his prospects as an Olympic medal hope with third place.
Russia's world champion Alexander Tretyakov, the bronze medallist in Whistler, was just behind and his consistency suggests a strong showing on home ice.
His third place was the first Olympic medal won by a Russian in skeleton.
Montgomery will not be in Russia to defend his title as he failed to qualify. In his absence, John Fairbairn will carry Canada's hopes.
The battle for women's skeleton gold should provide a thrilling duel between Britain and the United States.
Briton Amy Williams will not defend her Olympic title having retired but World Cup winner Lizzy Yarnold and 2006 Games silver medallist and current world champion Shelley Rudman are poised to emulate her triumph.
Standing in their way is American Noelle Pikus-Pace, who has been in impressive form since coming out of retirement and is determined to make it third time lucky after missing the 2006 Games due to a freak injury and then finishing fourth four years ago.
Yarnold, who is mentored by Williams, has been the talk of the winter season, having made steady progress since winning the world junior title.
"These past few months have been fantastic for me but they are just the building blocks," said Yarnold, who admits she gets nervous before every slide.
"Once I start the run, I'm totally in the moment, I'm safe and know what to do." (Editing by Julien Pretot)