GENEVA (AP) — Carlo Janka was just a toddler when his ski-obsessed nation last won Olympic gold in men's Alpine racing.
Now Switzerland is counting on the 23-year-old breakout star to end the country's long wait at the Vancouver Games, especially with veteran team leader Didier Cuche sporting a cast on his broken right thumb.
Surely Janka senses history beckoning him to follow Pirmin Zurbriggen, who won the downhill at the 1988 Calgary Games?
"You're the first that has said it to me," Janka told The Associated Press last week before flying to Vancouver. "Yeah, it'll be good for us when we can make some gold medals in skiing."
Janka said he'll start thinking of the games at the first downhill training run scheduled for Wednesday.
"I'm very relaxed, the Olympics are not there," he said. "It's too far at the moment. It's a few days until my first race."
Swiss head coach Martin Rufener said he sees Janka as a contender on four fronts: downhill, super-G, giant slalom and super-combined.
"He's ready. He always is ready," Rufener said. "You have to be mentally strong, and he is one of those guys."
Janka was fully focused when winning his world title last February, the day after his good friend Daniel Albrecht awoke from a three-week induced coma following a crash on the feared Streif slope at Kitzbuehel, Austria.
This season, Janka is second in the overall standings on the grueling World Cup circuit, despite missing weeks of offseason training to recover from a virus.
Then last month he won the classic downhill at Wengen — the nation's signature sports event — to delight the more than 30,000 fans lining the longest course on the circuit.
Race rivals marveled at Janka's error-free run and his calmness in a finish area pulsating with patriotic cheers.
"He is one of the best skiers I've ever seen. He has everything it takes to win," said 38-year-old Marco Buechel, soon to be a six-time Olympian who placed third that day.
Buechel, a one-man Liechtenstein team who trains with the Swiss, suggested "freaking out" when winning in front of a home crowd.
"Maybe in Vancouver, maybe," a smiling Janka said at Wengen. "Some racers do dances or something like that, but I'm not this kind of guy. I do my thing, and I'm happy with that."
Friends and family say Janka lets his feelings run free when watching Manchester United play.
He has been a fan since the English soccer team became European champion in 1999, though his choice of favorite player hints at a humble personality.
Janka preferred the down-home charms of dependable utility player John O'Shea over the obvious glamour of forward Cristiano Ronaldo.
Now, it's Janka's turn in the spotlight.
"Maybe, I don't know," he said. "I just race in the moment."
That Olympic moment could soon be here.