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Olympians brace for tough course on women's skicross

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- It almost sounds like a sightseeing tour through Moscow: Start with the Bolshoi, keep the speed up through Gorky Park, be careful around Red Square and cruise past the Kremlin.

No time for sightseeing, though, since, in this case, these are the names of features on the Olympic skicross course, which hosts the women's contest Friday.

There have been crashes and spills on the course for two weeks, by snowboarders and skiers, men and women both. The course was in the spotlight last weekend when Olympic skicross racer Maria Komissarova of Russia fractured her spine in a training accident.

So, should the course be altered for the women? After all, race organizers have two different setups for, say, the men's and women's downhill in Alpine skiing.

“I don't think so,” Marte Hoeie Gjefsen of Norway said.

Instead, Gjefsen thinks a rider's experience should count for more.

“As a coach, you have to know your racers and say, 'This is too big.' That's my opinion,” she said.

Ophelie David of France actually appreciates the difficultly of the course.

“It's excellent, amazing, the best we've had this winter,” she said. “It's everything with '-er' — bigger, better, more 'amazing-er,' if I can say that.”

Ten months ago, Sami Kennedy-Sim of Australia was experiencing pain in training. She dismissed it as the usual bumps and bruises that go with skicross. But when she felt her face droop and experienced paralysis down her left side after waking one morning, she went to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with a minor stroke. After five days in the hospital followed by more treatment, she was back on the slopes and competing just four months later.

Now, she's hoping to draw some inspiration from fellow Aussie David Morris, who won a silver medal in aerials earlier this week.

“It was so cool,” Kennedy-Sim said. “I've got just as good of a chance as anybody to do something amazing.”

NO REPEAT CHAMPION: Ashleigh McIvor of Canada captured gold on her home turf four years ago in Vancouver, but won't defend her title. McIvor announced in November 2012 that she was stepping away from competing. Canadians Kelsey Serwa and Marielle Thompson will be factors, though. Serwa won a World Cup race in Rosa Khutor last year, while Thompson has two wins this season.

CLOSE CALL: Sanna Luedi of Switzerland came up short on a jump in January, breaking a bone in her leg. It didn't take her long to heal, though, and she's scheduled to race. “I'm feeling really good,” said Luedi, who has two screws in her leg. “The injury shouldn't be a problem.”

EYE ON THE PRIZE: David has an impressive resume with a world championship title, numerous Winter X Games titles and 26 World Cup wins. The only thing missing is an Olympic medal. Added pressure? “Sometimes I think about that and I can put pressure on myself,” the 37-year-old David said. “But that is not a good thing to do. I just have to do what I know how to do well and have fun.”

FANNY PACK: Fanny Smith of Switzerland will be one of the favorites, especially after winning a World Cup event two months ago.

Nicknamed “Crazy Fanny,” she's looking to improve on a seventh-place finish four years ago in Vancouver. She counts tennis great Roger Federer among her idols.

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