The 2010 Winter Olympics will come to a close tonight in Vancouver after 17 memorable days.
While the lasting legacy of the Vancouver Games is still to be determined, one thing the 2010 Olympics should be remembered for is the success of North America.
The Winter Games have long been dominated by European nations, but Canada and the United States have never had a more successful Winter Olympics than this one. And the two North American nations are claiming just about every possible record in the process.
While the United States burst out of the gates and led in the overall medal count after the end of day one to the end of day 17, Canada slowly climbed its way to the top of the gold medal count after a slow start. They finally took the lead for the most gold medals at the conclusion of day 15.
Only once before has a country outside of Europe won the overall medal count at a Winter Olympics. That was when the United States topped the standings at the 1932 Lake Placid Games with 12 total medals. The U.S. won six golds at those Lake Placid Games, also marking the last time that a non-European country won the gold medal count.
The U.S. and Canada both will conclude the Vancouver Games with a national record for medals at a Winter Olympics.
The U.S. will eclipse its previous record of 34 from the 2002 Salt Lake City Games with 37 medals and Canada will surpass its 24 medals from Torino in 2006 with 26 medals.
The 37 American medals will also set a new Winter Olympic record for any nation, breaking the mark of 36 set by Germany in 2002.
Entering the final weekend of the 2010 Games, the Americans seemed to have that record all but sown up, essentially needing just one more medal in the final two days in Vancouver (technically they needed three medals, but U.S. teams were already assured of at least silver medals in men’s hockey and the men’s team pursuit in speed skating since they had already advanced to the final gold medal match).
After the U.S. women’s speed skating pursuit team lost in the semifinals and the bronze medal match yesterday, and after parallel giant slalom snowboarder Chris Klug bowed out in the quarterfinals of his event, and skiers Bode Miller and Ted Ligety were disqualified for missing gates in the slalom, the U.S. had only one last hope to claim a 37th medal late yesterday afternoon.
The American four-man bobsled team piloted by Steve Holcomb came through.
The American squad took gold in relatively convincing fashion, defeating a four-time Olympic champion from Germany in the process and winning America’s first gold in bobsled in 62 years.
The U.S technically will not claim its 37th medal until this afternoon, when its mens hockey team comes home with either silver or gold from its contest with Canada.
While the Americans will set a record for most total medals at a Winter Olympics, Canada has the opportunity to break the record for most golds at a Winter Games with a win over the U.S. in hockey today.
Canada has already collected 13 golds in Vancouver, matching the 13 that Norway won in 2002.
Entering Friday, Canada seemed to have no shot at that record and trailed Germany by nine to eight in gold medals.
With two short track medals on Friday night and gold medals in men’s curling, men’s snowboard parallel giant slalom, and the men’s pursuit in speed skating on Saturday, Canada not only surged into the lead in the gold medal count at Vancouver, but also equaled Olympic history in the process.
In an Olympics marked by the success of the two North American neighbors, it is only fitting that the United States and Canada will battle it out this afternoon in the final event of the Vancouver Olympics—the men’s hockey gold medal game.
Many Canadians have said that a gold medal in men’s hockey at their home Olympics would mean more to them than any other medal they could win at these Games.
The U.S. meanwhile will hope to relive its greatest Winter Olympic moment while denying Canada its own. A U.S. win would be the first American gold in men’s hockey since the famous “Miracle on Ice” at the 1980 Lake Placid Games.