By Martyn Herman
ROSA KHUTOR, Russia, Feb 10 (Reuters) - The world's fastest women ski racers will test their skill and nerve down a formidable Rosa Khutor course on Wednesday hoping to win the coveted Olympic downhill gold medal.
The following are leading contenders:
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MARIA HOEFL-RIESCH (Germany)
The tall German has it all: Technical ability, raw speed and great feel so should be well equipped to cope with the multiple challenges of the Rosa Khutor piste.
She already has one gold in the bag from the super combined so will be able to ski with freedom on Wednesday as she aims to claim the prize she cherishes most.
Won the only World Cup downhill held on the slope and has three victories already this season. Big favourite.
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ANNA FENNINGER (Austria)
A super combined world champion in 2011, Fenninger skis across the various disciplines but is particularly dangerous in the speed events.
Her most consistent results have come in super-G and with the Sochi course being twisty, particularly at the top, Austria have high hopes that the 24-year-old can emulate Michaela Dorfmeister's victory in Turin.
Was quickest in the first training run although conditions have changed since then, with milder weather expected.
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TINA WEIRATHER (Liechtenstein)
Some injury concerns after bruising a shin bone earlier in the week, but the daughter of the great Hanni Wenzel has the tools to become the small country's second female gold medallist in Olympic Alpine skiing, after her mother.
"This is a difficult moment," Liechtenstein's flag carrier said on Twitter on Monday about her injury.
Yet to win a World Cup downhill, but a stack of podiums this season suggest it is only a matter of time before she delivers.
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JULIA MANCUSO (U.S.)
In the absence of reigning downhill champion Lindsey Vonn, the experienced Mancuso is back in the limelight and appears to be returning to her best form after a slow start to the season.
Second to Vonn in Vancouver, where she was also runner-up to Hoefl-Riesch in the super combined, Mancuso is a "big-day" skier who thrives in the Olympic atmosphere.
Has found the Rosa Khutor slope to her liking so far, impressing in training and winning the downhill section of the super combined in which she took a bronze.
Her country's most medalled Olympic skier, she has a colourful life outside skiing and has her own line in underwear.
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TINA MAZE (Slovenia)
Slovenian all-rounder who was dominant in the 2012-13 World Cup season, setting a new points record in taking the title.
This season has not been so good and changed her coach to Mauro Pini before Christmas, a move that paid off when she won the downhill in Cortina in the lead-up to Sochi.
Was disappointing in the super combined where she missed a medal, although that could fire her to rebound in the downhill.
When not skiing, has dabbled in the music industry.
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LARA GUT (Switzerland)
A new kid on the block, the diminutive Swiss is only 22 and this year's Olympics may have come too early.
However, she has already proved herself supremely talented with natural speed and a low centre of gravity helping her to five World Cup victories this season, three in super-G and one in downhill.
"Everything is new but, when you are standing at the top, you have to do the same thing that you do all winter long - you just have to ski like you can," she said. (Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Rex Gowar)