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Olympics: Kostner leads Italian charge in Sochi

Team trying to beat five medals won in Vancouver

06 February, 17:35
Olympics: Kostner leads Italian charge in Sochi (By Paul Virgo) (ANSA) - Rome, February 6 - Former world champion figure skater Carolina Kostner will be leading Italy's charge for medals at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, which kicks off on Friday with the opening ceremony in the Russian Red Sea resort.

Italy is taking its second-biggest Winter Olympic team to Sochi with 113 athletes, bettered only by the 179 that took part in the Turin Games on home soil in 2006.

Giovanni Malagò, the head of the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI), has set the team a target of beating its haul of five medals in 2010 in Vancouver, including Giuliano Razzoli's gold in the men's slalom skiing. "If we win one more medal than last time, it'll mean we've done better," said Malago'.

"We know that the colour of the medal is a lottery... and it's a slender line between the podium and fourth place, especially in winter sports.

"We have some strong points and some weak points, but lots of cards to play".

Kostner, the girlfriend of 2008 50km-walk Olympic champion and drugs cheat Alex Schwazer, is aiming to end her Olympic medal duck in what are likely to be her last Games before retiring from competition.

The 26-year-old has won five world championships medals, including gold in Nice in 2012, and have been crowned European champion five times, but she failed to make the podium in her two previous Olympic performances.

She is relatively tall for a figure skater and is perhaps the most graceful on the circuit, but is sometimes prone to costly falls. Another big hope is luge specialist Armin Zoeggeler, who will be Italy's flag-carrier at the opening ceremony, The 40-year-old has won five individual Olympic luge medals in a career stretching back two decades, including gold medals he claimed in Salt Lake City in 2002 and Turin in 2006.

Zoeggeler, known as the 'cannibal' for his ability to gobble up trophies, has also been crowned world champion six times.

In the Alpine skiing, Razzoli will defend the slalom title he won four years ago, although his form has mostly been poor since and he is not among the favourites.

Dominik Paris, a 24-year-old who took silver in the downhill at last year's world championships, may be a better medal bet this time.

Another downhill contender is Christof Innerhofer, who will also be in the running in the SuperG, along with Italy's Peter Fill and Werner Heel.

The Azzurri also have chances of glory in the giant slalom with Manfred Moellg and Roberto Nani.

Sisters Elena and Nadia Fanchini are probably Italy's best hopes of medals in the women's Alpine skiing in the downhill and SuperG. Other names to look out for are Arianna Fontana, who won short-track Olympic medals in 2006 and 2010, and cross-country skiers Federico Pellegrino, David Hofer, Giorgio Di Centa and Roland Clara.

After winning gold at the junior world championships in 2009 and two World Cup races, 24-year-old Omar Visintin is aiming high in the snowboard cross. Roland Fischnaller and Aaron March are good enough to win medals in the snowboard parallel giant slalom. Malagò has said he has high hopes for Alessandro Pittin, bronze medallist in Vancouver, in Nordic combined.

Premier Enrico Letta is set to attend the opening ceremony despite controversy about Russia's new law restricting the activities of gay activists "At Sochi I will reiterate Italy's opposition to any discriminatory norm against gays, inside or outside sports," Letta said this week.

Part of the reason Letta is going is to drum up support for a likely bid by Rome for the 2024 Summer Olympics.