KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Russian skiers appear more frequently on the World Cup ski circuit in Europe these days, their presence hard to miss at the upcoming Alpine test events for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
While a handful of Russians will compete in the men's downhill and super-combined this weekend, more than 10 women will race the following weekend in the same World Cup events.
After the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, the Russian Alpine Ski and Snowboard Federation hired two experienced Slovenian coaches to guide a budding program.
The women's coach is Marjan Cernigoj, who spent 13 years with the U.S. Ski Team. He was head women's coach from 1998-2003. Urban Planinsek coaches the men after guiding the Slovenia team from 2006-10.
The goal is a respectable showing on home snow in 2014 — but that's not all.
"They did hire us to get as good results as possible in Sochi, but this team is still extremely young. Most of the girls will be 21 or 22 by then, so we're really looking very, very far past 2014," Cernigoj said in an interview with The Associated Press. "Of course, there is pressure from the Russian federation. But it's healthy pressure, so it's no problem."
The veteran racer of the team is 27-year-old technical specialist Alexander Khoroshilov, who is preparing to race in his third Olympics
At the Vancouver Games, Khoroshilov competed in all five events, with his best finish 21st in super-combined.
Sergei Maytakov, 22, won a second-tier Europa Cup giant slalom last month. Stepan Zuev, 23, finished fifth in a Europa Cup slalom in January.
Another veteran is Slovenian-born downhiller Alek Glebov, who was sidelined two years with an injury. He started racing in January and makes his World Cup return this week in Sochi.
Glebov switched nationalities in 2010.
"My grandfather and father are Russian," he said. "My mother is Portuguese and my grandmother Croatian, so I'm not too Slovenian. But I live there because the family lives there. But I always had a wish to (race) for Russia."
Because there are no slalom or giant slalom events, the only other Russian men besides Glebov competing this week are Ivan Muravyev, Andrey Bystrov and Evgeniy Lisitsa — all three making their World Cup debuts.
"On the speed side the guys are without experience, so I'm helping them a little bit," Glebov said.
Meanwhile, 19-year-old Pavel Trikhichev will aim for top-10 finishes at this season's junior world championships this month in Roccaraso, Italy.
The younger racers hope to get more World Cup experience before the Sochi Games.
"We need to get our start numbers down to have a good start position," Planinsek said. "A top 20 or top 15 result in the technical events would be respectable. There's two years to go, but we have to be realistic."
As the host nation, Russia can enter up to four skiers in each Alpine event at the games.
"We hope we can fill them, although we've got to be careful in the speed events," Planinsek said. "You've got to deserve to start at the Olympics."
Three 19-year-old Russians — Maria Bedareva, Elena Yakovishina, and Anastasia Kedrina — competed at the women's World Cup stop two weeks ago in St. Moritz, Switzerland. All three competed in downhill training, but World Cup rules meant only one Russian could start each event.
"It was great to give them each a little exposure. They learned a lot," Cernigoj said.
While there are no standouts on the current Russian team, there have been some successful skiers in the past.
In the mid 1990s, Varvara Zelenskaya won four World Cup downhills and Svetlana Gladysheva took one. Gladysheva also won a silver medal in super-G at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics and a bronze in downhill at the 1991 world championships in Saalbach, Austria. She is now the president of the Russian federation.
Unlike those trailblazers, Russian skiers have world-class slopes for training at the Rosa Khutor center. The future is the main focus, and it's the message that Cernigoj and Planinsek are passing along — even if they don't speak much Russian.
"I speak Serbian, which is a bit closer to Russian and I know how to read Cyrillic — I learned in school — so that helps," Cernigoj said. "But we want the girls to learn English so they can operate around the world. So we're trying to communicate with them in English, and they're doing a great job."