After the first two legs, reigning Olympic champion and hot favourite, Felix Loch (GER) led Albert Demchenko (RUS), and Italy’s Armin Zöggeler, who has been a constant presence on the podium in this event dating back to Lillehammer 1994, and gold medal winner in 2002 and 2006.
The 42-year old Demchenko, who is competing in his seventh Games, gave the local crowd who gathered at Krasnaya Polyana plenty to cheer when he finished fastest in the first leg, 0.015 seconds ahead of Loch, with Zöggeler a further 0.450 seconds behind.
However, the 24-year old German stepped up a gear in the second leg, in which he was the only competitor to go under 52 seconds, setting a new course record of 51.964.
Big hitters well placed for podium finish
At the end of the first two legs, Demchenko, a silver medallist at Turin 2006, lay in second place 0.294 seconds behind Loch, with two-time Olympic champion Zöggeler third, 0.744 seconds off the pace.
The rest of the field were all more than a second off the lead, ahead of the decisive third and fourth legs, which are due to take place on Sunday evening, starting at 18h30 local time.
Loch was delighted with his performance over the first two legs, which he believes has left him well placed to complete a defence of his title on Sunday, though he remained wary of the threat posed by home favourite Demchenko: "In the third run I'll have the first position and that's what I like most of all at the Olympics," he said.
"I'll do my best to show a good time and will wait watching the others trying to beat it. But Albert is really fast on his home track and I will need to perform really well tomorrow."