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Sochi, Russia • Ted Ligety finally begins his medal pursuit at the Sochi Olympics on Friday, while fellow Utahn Noelle Pikus-Pace finally can put an end to hers.

It could be another big day for Utahns in the mountains, where Ligety will chase gold in the super combined, while Pikus-Pace tries to finish off a podium performance in the skeleton. Pikus-Pace sits second after the first two runs and will take her final two runs Friday night with her husband and two children watching and cheering. The Orem native probably is out of contention for gold — Great Britain's Lizzy Yarnold holds a monster 0.44-second lead — but still can claim the silver if nothing goes horribly wrong.

"I just have to do what I need to do and put it together one run at a time," she said.

Same for Ligety, the Park City native trying to win his first Olympic medal since taking a surprise gold in the same event in the 2006 Turin Olympics. Back then, the combined included one run of downhill and two runs of slalom; now it includes just one run of slalom.

But that still should benefit Ligety against teammate Bode Miller and other top contenders such as reigning Olympic champion and world silver medalist Ivica Kostelic of Croatia. Skiers who typically are far better in one discipline — such as downhill maestro Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway or slalom specialist Alexis Pinturault of France — need to fare well enough in their weak discipline to allow their stronger one to carry them through.

One big concern will be the weather.

Temperatures have continued to soar into the 50s with daily sunshine, which could impact the course by turning the snow to mush and making it hard for skiers to race at their best. At least it hasn't rained yet, though forecasters are calling for some of that next week when Ligety's schedule hits full steam.

Park City's Emily Cook and Ashley Caldwell compete in women's aerials, with both seeking happy-ending performances after past disappointment. Both have an outside shot at the podium, but it will be tough to break through against the powerful Chinese, who could sweep the podium with any of Li Nina, Xin Zhang, Xu Mengtao and Cheng Shuang.

- Michael C. Lewis —

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