By MATTIAS KAREN
2014-02-07 11:01 PM
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) -- This was supposed to be Dario Cologna's big Olympics, a chance to follow up his three overall World Cup titles with a dominating performance on the sport's biggest stage.
After his season was derailed by an ankle injury, however, just getting a medal would be a huge success for the Swiss cross-country skier.
Cologna had surgery in November to repair a ligament in his right ankle and only returned to competition last month, making it impossible to predict what he can achieve in Sochi. However, he did finish second in a World Cup race last weekend, indicating that he might be getting back to his best just in time.
"I'm ready," Cologna said. "My injury is in the past, but not totally. It still hurts a little bit, but it doesn't hurt to move. It won't affect my results."
Whether that's true will be evident on Sunday in the men's 30-kilometer skiathlon, an event in which Cologna is the reigning world champion.
The skiathlon mixes a 15K classical style portion with freestyle skiing for the second half, suiting all-around skiers like Cologna, who doesn't really have a weakness. Had he been fit this whole season, he probably would have been the main favorite in the event. As it is, he is an outsider who will still make rivals wary.
The Swiss skier has been one of the most consistent competitors on the World Cup circuit for years, able to win races in almost any discipline. He has won three of the last five overall World Cup titles, with Petter Northug of Norway taking the other two.
Cologna also has an Olympic gold to his name after winning the 15-kilometer freestyle race in Vancouver four years ago. That made him the first Swiss cross-country skier to win an Olympic title, but leaving with just one medal was still seen as a bit of an underachievement by many.
This time, the same haul would exceed expectations.
"There is less pressure on me than in the last Olympics because I was the favorite last time, and now I'm not," Cologna said. "But I hope I can win."