By Justin Palmer
ROSA KHUTOR, Russia, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Alexander Tretiakov put Latvian Martins Dukurs in the shade on Friday to raise hopes of a first Russian gold in skeleton.
The 28-year-old, dubbed the "Russian Rocket," was accompanied by a crescendo of noise as he twice scorched down the Sanki track to establish a 0.56 second advantage over Dukurs going into Saturday's remaining two heats.
World champion Tretiakov, who finished one place behind silver medallist Dukurs on the podium in 2010, blitzed to a track record 55.95 on his first slide and extended his lead further the second time around to clock a combined 1.51.99.
"I feel the energy, like someone pushing me at the start," Tretiakov told reporters.
"The fact that I managed to get ahead on the first day gives me confidence, but I shouldn't relax. Martins is a strong competitor."
Dukurs, the winner of five consecutive World Cup titles, could not match Tretiakov's speed and was left with work to do to become the first ever Winter Games champion from Latvia.
"They were both solid runs compared to how I went in training, and something to build on," he said.
"You always need to be ready to fight for what you want so I am happy to be where I am with two runs to come."
Americans John Daly and Matt Antoine sit third and fourth with Dukurs' older brother Tomass in sixth.
Canada's Vancouver gold medallist Jon Montgomery was not selected for these Games. (Editing by Peter Rutherford)