By Dmitriy Rogovitskiy
Jan 30 (Reuters) - Norway were the dominant force at the Vancouver Olympics and there is no reason why they should not smash the field again in Sochi with Petter Northug and Marit Bjoergen spearheading an awe-inspiring squad.
Northug has established himself as one of the most consistent male performers since the 2010 Olympics, where he claimed two titles as Norway secured nine medals, including five golds.
The 28 year-old Northug, who will be competing in his second Olympics, won the 2013 overall World Cup and also bagged his ninth world title that year in Val di Fiemme, Italy, to match compatriot Bjorn Daehlie's record.
"I will stop at nothing because I must be at the top of the podium at the Sochi Olympics," said Northug.
"If I am speaking honestly, I have high expectations. One gold medal will not be enough. I want to win no less than two gold medals."
Northug, who is likely to compete in all six events - from the sprint to the 50-km individual race - could face stiff competition from team mate Martin Johnsrud Sundby, the overall World Cup leader and first Norwegian male to win the prestigious Tour de Ski this season.
Distance specialist Dario Cologna, the 15km Olympic champion, will also be a threat, though the Swiss is only coming back to fitness after missing two months with an ankle injury.
Host nation Russia's hopes lie with Nikita Kriukov, the sprint Olympic champion who does not compete in the distance events, and with distance skier Aleksandr Legkov, currently third in the overall World Cup rankings.
In the women's events, triple Olympic champion Marit Bjoergen and the gifted Therese Johaug are looking to sweep all before them for Norway.
Bjoergen, 33, won three titles in Vancouver and four gold medals at last year's world championships.
The most successful woman in World Cup history with 62 individual victories, the 33-year-old is not in a sharing mood ahead of Sochi.
"I will have a real marathon at the Olympic games and it is going to be really tough. I have a chance to make history," the 12-times world champion said.
Her biggest threat could come from team mate Johaug, the overall World Cup leader nicknamed 'Duracell' in reference to her impressive speed and cadence.
Johaug has often found it difficult to get the better of her fellow countrywomen, though she did beat Bjoergen to win the 10km freestyle race at the last world championships.
She also won this season's Tour de Ski, a feat Bjoergen never achieved.
Both, however, will be wary of Poland's Justyna Kowalczyk, who has skipped this season's Tour de Ski - an event she had won in the four previous editions - to focus on the Games, where she will be among the favourites in the 30km mass start.
Russians Yulia Chekaleva and Yulia Ivanova can hope for podium places but Norway, with four skiers at the top of the overall World Cup standings, should have the last word after winning 10 of the 18 women's medals on offer in Val di Fiemme. (Editing by Julien Pretot)