By Martyn Herman
ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - Triple world champion Ted Ligety was late joining the Sochi Olympic party but armed with a little local knowledge and some Russian goodwill he looks set to make up for lost time.
The U.S. ski team have struck an unlikely relationship with their Russian counterparts, so Ligety, despite only venturing to the Rose Khutor piste for the first time on Tuesday, is already one step ahead of his rivals.
So relaxed is the American about the challenges ahead as he goes for gold in four events in nine days, starting with Friday's super combined, that the 29-year-old took two days off in Zurich before flying to the Caucasus Mountains on Monday.
"We've actually had a partnership with the Russian team over the past couple of years," he told a news conference after trying out the downhill course in his first training run.
"They trained with us in New Zealand and Colorado and actually we had an opportunity to train here last year after the world championships. We had five days here.
"We trained slalom and giant slalom mostly and a day of super-G. It was warm and the snow was re-frozen so something similar to what we are going to have here.
"We've never had a technical (slalom or giant slalom) event here so it takes the anxiety away. I don't have to worry about how the hill feels, how tiring it is. I know the ins and outs so I guess that's gonna make it easier mentally."
Park City-born Ligety burst out of compatriot Bode Miller's shadow in 2006 when he won Olympic gold in super combined, overturning a three-second deficit from the downhill with two barnstorming slalom runs.
For a while it looked as though he might be a "one-hit wonder" when he failed to medal in Vancouver but a year later he became giant slalom world champion and retained the title in 2013, as well as winning super-G and super combined.
"Vancouver was definitely a disappointment," he said. "I felt like I had really good chances to medal there.
"At the finish line of that race I knew I could have gone a lot harder, I knew I could have been a lot faster with just a small change in my mentality and how I approached the course.
"That really changed my mentality in ski racing. Ever since then I've been able to raise my intensity and ski at a level where I'm happy every time I get to the finish line.
"Whether that's winning or blowing out or getting third place, I just want to be happy that I have pushed myself as hard as I could every single run."
That attitude helped Ligety win a recent World Cup giant slalom in St Moritz by one and a half seconds, a country mile in ski racing. So having had exclusive access to Rosa Khutor's GS track he is a red-hot favourite for at least one medal.
"It's nice I have some miles on this hill," he said.
"I don't really think anyone else on the Olympics has skied the giant slalom much other than myself and the Russian guys so that's definitely a nice little advantage."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)