SCHLADMING, Austria (AP) — Tina Maze is comfortably handling being the racer to beat in Friday's super-combined at the skiing world championships.
"I know how to deal with the pressure of coming here as a favorite," Maze said. A second straight gold medal is in her sights after becoming the first Slovenian medalist in a speed race in the super-G on Tuesday.
Maze has been enjoying a standout World Cup season, including victory in the only super-combined so far. "I would be proud of two gold medals," said Maze, who could win a fifth career worlds medal. "But (Alberto) Tomba once said, 'There is no two without three.'"
In 2011 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, Maze won gold in giant slalom and trailed champion Anna Fenninger of Austria for silver in the super-combined. Two years earlier in Val d'Isere, France, she took silver in the GS.
Maze is one of only six female skiers to win World Cup races in all five Alpine disciplines. Lindsey Vonn has also achieved that feat, and won the World Cup super-combined title for three straight years, but the American is out for the season after injuring her right knee in a crash in the super-G.
Her teammate, Julia Mancuso, is looking to challenge Maze for the super-combined title. In the World Cup, Mancuso hasn't reached a podium in the discipline for six years, but she tends to peak in major championships, earning silver at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Mancuso started the worlds by taking a confidence-boosting bronze medal. "I am happy with a third place but the next goal is to get that gold," she said. Maria Hoefl-Riesch, the 2010 Olympic champion, has won four super-combineds. The 2011 overall champion from Germany is second in the World Cup overall standings, more than 800 points behind Maze.
Hoefl-Riesch has won just once this season — the season-opening slalom in Levi, Finland in November. The hopes of the home nation will be on allrounder Kathrin Zettel, who is finally healthy after a couple of injury-plagued seasons, and defending champion Anna Fenninger.
Fenninger's 2011 victory is still her only top-three finish in a super-combined. Specializing in speed racing, the Austrian said she has been able to train in slalom for only six days this season. "But world championships have their own rules. Everything can happen," Fenninger said. "That was also the case when I won it two years ago."