KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Russia has had a disappointing showing in cross-country skiing so far at the Sochi Olympics, with just one medal from eight events. Things could improve on Wednesday, though, when it is among the favorites in the men's team sprint.
Olympic and world sprint champion Nikita Kriukov will anchor the two-man Russian team in the classical-style event, and has shown before that he is a man for the big occasions. Kriukov surprisingly won the individual sprint in Vancouver four years ago, but showed that wasn't a fluke by capturing gold in both the individual and team events at least year's world championships.
If teammate Maxim Vylegzhanin can keep up with the others on his legs, Kriukov could well add another title to his collection. Vylegzhanin was on the relay team that took silver on Sunday, but his best individual finish of the games came when he finished fourth in the 30-kilometer skiathlon after losing a disputed sprint to Norway's Martin Johnsrud Sundby.
Norway and Sweden are also among the favorites in both the men's and women's events.
Here are five things to know about the cross-country team sprints:
NORWEGIAN REVENGE: The Norwegian teams are eager to make up for their failures in the relays, where both the men and women failed to get a medal. Petter Northug, who took gold in this event in Vancouver, is back to compete alongside Ola Vigen Hattestad, who won the individual sprint in Sochi. That's a fearsome duo that should be fighting for the medals, if Norway's wax team can get things right this time. On the women's side, Marit Bjoergen will partner with Ingvild Flugstad Oestberg as she looks for a fifth career gold.
SWEDISH SUCCESS? Sweden's team is riding high after winning a rare relay double, and has reason to expect more medals in the team sprints. Men's team members Teodor Peterson and Emil Joensson took silver and bronze, respectively, in the individual sprint.
KIKKAN'S LAST CHANCE: American sprint specialist Kikkan Randall failed to get a medal in the individual event, but gets another chance here. Randall is a better freestyle sprinter, but the American team could be in with a chance if Sophie Caldwell shows the same form that helped her reach the final in the individual sprint.
KOWALCZYK'S FOOT: Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland won the 10K classical race despite skiing with a foot fracture. She's also a top classical-style sprinter, but she's likely to have plenty of time to make up on each leg. Her teammate is Sylwia Jaskowiec, who has never finished in the top 10 in a World Cup race and should not be able to keep up with the other favorites.
THE FORMAT: Unlike the individual sprint which has a qualifying run and quarterfinal heats, the team event starts at the semifinal stage. Each country can enter one team with two skiers, who take turns completing three laps each around the course. The two fastest teams in each semifinal advances to the final, along with the six fastest times of the runner-ups.