2010 Olympics Medal Count: U.S., Canada, in Tight Race for Most Golds

David WhiteCorrespondent IFebruary 27, 2010

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 21: Jamie Langenbrunner #15 of the United States scores during the ice hockey men's preliminary game between Canada and USA on day 10 of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at Canada Hockey Place on February 21, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

If the U.S. Olympic team failed to win another medal at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver it would still be the most successful Winter Games in the nation’s history.

Fortunately for the Americans, they will win at least two more medals in the final two days of the 2010 Games. Already in the finals of the men’s speed skating team pursuit event this afternoon and the men’s ice hockey gold medal tomorrow afternoon, the U.S can do no worse than silver in those two events.

Those two medals, once they are officially determined, will up the U.S. medal tally in Vancouver to 36, tying the all-time mark for most medals at a single Winter Olympics by any nation. Germany set that standard in 2002 at Salt Lake City.

The U.S. will also win the overall medal count at the Winter Olympics for the first time since 1932 in Lake Placid.

Germany, which sits in second in the overall count with 27 medals, does not have a realistic chance of winning nine more medals in Vancouver, and will fail to lead the overall medal standings at a Winter Games for the first time since 1994.

Two intriguing storylines remain for the U.S. team this weekend that would make this Olympics an even greater success for the Americans than it has already been.

The first question is whether the United States can claim at least one additional medal at these Games, aside from the two it is already guaranteed to win in the men’s speed skating pursuit and men’s hockey. A 37th medal would surpass the all-time record for most medals at a single Winter Olympics.

The second question is whether the United States can win or tie in the competition for the most gold medals in Vancouver. The U.S. currently has eight golds and sits in a tie for third with Norway, behind Germany with nine, and Canada with 10.

The prospects for securing a 37th medal seem promising.

The U.S. four-man bobsled team led by veteran driver Steve Holcomb has a sizeable lead over the competition after the first two of four runs.

With a Canadian team familiar with the track sitting in silver medal position and the pre-race favorite and four-time Olympic gold medalist Andre Lange of Germany piloting the sled currently sitting in third, Holcomb has his work cut out for him to win the gold, but his chances of sticking on the podium seem relatively high.

If Holcomb can make it down the track upright on two runs today he should be fine for a medal, but a treacherous and fast track has flipped the sleds of even the most experienced drivers so nothing is assured.

If the four-man bobsled team cannot collect a 37th American medal, the next best hope is in the women’s team pursuit in speed skating. Yesterday, an American trio led by four-time Olympian Jennifer Rodriguez upset a Canadian team favored to win gold in the quarter-finals.

The Americans will again be underdogs in today’s semifinals against Germany, but even a loss there and they will have a chance to claim a bronze medal later in the day against the loser of the other semifinal between Poland and Japan.

The other hopes for American medals today are Tyler Jewell in the men’s snowboard parallel giant slalom and Bode Miller or Ted Ligety in the men’s alpine skiing slalom race. Jewell is a bit of a longshot and so is Miller, but if Ligety can recreate his form from the slalom portion of the super combined event for two runs of the slalom course today, he should contend for a spot on the podium.

While the U.S. team is likely to claim a record breaking 37th medal in Vancouver this weekend, its quest to win the most golds in Vancouver will be a much more difficult one.

Trailing Canada by two gold medals, the two most critical events of the weekend for the U.S. team are the gold medal finals in the men’s speed skating pursuit and men’s ice hockey.

The U.S. will go head-to-head with Canada in both finals. If Canada wins just one of those two matchups, the U.S. would be hard pressed to equal the host nation’s gold medal tally.

Coming into the Olympics, the Canadians would have been heavily favored in both the pursuit and hockey game with the United States. Given that they shocked the gold-medal favorite Dutch in the semifinals of the pursuit yesterday, however, the American speed skating trio led by Olympic veteran Chad Hedrick has to at least be given a chance of beating Canada this afternoon.

Regardless, the Canadians are still the favorites.

The same cannot probably still be said of Canada’s men’s hockey team.

The U.S. team has played incredibly well in Vancouver and has yet to lose a game, in the process upsetting the Canadians in group play last weekend. Canada has steadied its ship since losing to the Americans, but it struggled to put away an upstart Slovakia team in the semifinals last night. The Americans on the other hand have to be brimming with confidence after steamrolling Finland with six first period goals in the semifinals.

Given that team Canada has more stars on the ice and will be playing in front of a home crowd, the odds on which team will triumph in the final event of the Olympics on Sunday are probably about even.

If the U.S. were to beat Canada in both the pursuit and hockey it would equal the host nation’s current tally of ten gold medals. The most likely source of an 11th gold is in the four-man bobsled, which American driver Steve Holcomb currently leads. Of course, a Canadian sled sits just behind in second and could give Canada another gold instead.

The Americans' other chances for gold are from upsets by the women’s speed skating pursuit team and Bode Miller or Ted Ligety in the men’s slalom.

Even if the United States kept Canada off the top of the podium in hockey, speed skating, and bobsled, the host nation could still win two more events and claim the gold medal count outright at 12. Jasey-Jay Anderson is the favorite in the men’s snowboard parallel giant slalom event this afternoon and the men’s curling team is favored in its gold medal matchup with Norway later in the day.

Germany and Norway both also still have a chance to figure into the race for the top spot in the gold medal count.

With the Canadians out of the women’s speed skating pursuit, the Germans are now the gold medal favorite as they head into the semifinals today against the United States. Veteran cross-country skier, Tobias Angerer, is also one of the favorites to win the men’s 50K cross-country ski race tomorrow.

Germany’s four-man bobsled, driven by four-time Olympic gold medalist Andre Lange, was the pre-race gold medal favorite and sits in third behind Steve Holcomb’s United States sled after two of four runs. The Germans also have outside shots for gold in the men’s snowboard parallel giant slalom and the women’s 30K cross country race today.

Norway has three more chances for gold and could push its tally to as high as 11. Marit Bjorgen is the gold-medal favorite in the women’s cross country race today and Petter Northug has a chance to win the men’s race tomorrow. The men’s curling team is an underdog, but has the chance to win gold in the championship match against Canada today.

Regardless of what happens this weekend, it has been an incredibly successful Olympics for the United States, which will leave Vancouver atop the overall medal count at a Winter Games for the first time in 78 years and with at least a record-tying 36 medals.

A victory in the men’s pursuit, four-man bobsled, and the men’s slalom or women’s pursuit to help reach the top of the gold medal count would just add to that success.

But regardless of the final gold medal tally, perhaps nothing would make these Olympics more memorable for the United States than claiming the final gold medal of Vancouver—and America’s first gold medal in men’s ice hockey since the “Miracle on Ice” in 1980—in what is likely to be the most watched hockey game in history.