It's arguably the first marquee event of every Winter Olympics, and the men's downhill in recent Olympics has provided surprising storylines.
“The one thing about the Olympics especially in the speed disciplines, it so very rarely goes to the favourite, the favourite has so much pressure, and the variables are greater in downhill,” says CBC alpine analyst Kerrin Lee-Gartner, a 1992 downhill winner. “ It's not to say it's a flukey thing, it's just that everything has to align right, it's harder for the favourite to make it align right in downhill.”
In the last 20 years there have been four Olympic downhill winners who had fewer than three World Cup victories before making history: Tommy Moe of the U.S., Frenchmen Jean-Luc Cretier and Antoine Deneriaz, and 2010 winner Didier Defago of Switzerland.
The Canadian Cowboys - Erik Guay, Manuel Osborne-Paradis and Jan Hudec - wouldn't qualify as surprise winners from an individual standpoint, but breaking a 20-year Olympic medal drought for the country in alpine skiing certainly would make fans take notice.
No Canadian man has ever won a gold or silver medal in alpine. Steve Podborski (1980) and Ed Podivinsky (1994) each won bronze in the downhill.
Guay is the likeliest contender to break through. He's achieved two of his three career goals after winning a Crystal Globe season title in the super-G in 2010 and winning a world championship in downhill a year later.
The Mont-Tremblant, Que., native is only missing an Olympic medal, preferably gold, after three separate top five finishes at the Winter Games.
Guay has battled back this season from a knee injury to break Podborski's World Cup podium record for Canadian men. He finished seventh in the opening training session on Thursday.
Hudec, he of the seven knee surgeries and more recent back injury, has also reached the podium this season. The Calgary native took silver in the super-G in Val Gardena, Italy in December.
Osborne-Paradis is waiting to take that next step. Since coming back in late 2012 from a knee injury, the North Vancouver native has had top 10 finishes, but has been unable to reach the podium.
Ben Thomsen of Invermere, B.C., finished second on a slightly different Sochi course two years ago, but he's struggled mightily this season.
There are two strong international contenders to buck the recent trend of surprise Olympic downhill champs.
Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway, who won a medal of every colour in Vancouver, has run his total of World Cup downhill wins to eight this season with a pair of victories.
Bode Miller of the United States has wowed ski fans again this season, coming back at the age of 36 after more than a year off to reach the World Cup podium once each in downhill, super-G and giant slalom. Miller's yet to win since his comeback, but coming up golden for a sixth career Olympic medal would be just his style.
The following men would also not be surprise winners: Dominik Paris and Christof Innerhofer of Italy, Adrian Theaux of France and Patrick Kueng of Switzerland.
Even 36-year-old Didier Defago put his name into consideration again after his first victory in over two years last month, a super-G at Kitzbuehel.
The lengthy course has received mostly positive feedback from the skiers, with many remarking on the "big air" jumps.
2010 Olympic downhill: Didier Defago, Switzerland (G), Aksel Lund Svindal, Norway (S), Bode Miller, USA (B)
Olympic alpine skiing schedule:
Sunday, Feb. 9: Men's downhill
Monday, Feb. 10: Women's super-combined
Wednesday, Feb. 12: Women's downhill
Friday, Feb. 14: Men's super-combined
Saturday, Feb. 15: Women's super-G
Sunday, Feb. 16: Men's super-G
Tuesday, Feb. 18: Women's giant slalom
Wednesday, Feb. 19: Men's giant slalom
Friday, Feb. 21: Women's slalom
Saturday, Feb. 22: Men's slalom