Seventy-eight years after last winning the overall medal count at a Winter Olympics, it appears the United States will do so again.
With three days of competition remaining at the Vancouver 2010 Games, the U.S. team has taken a six-medal lead over Winter Olympics powerhouse Germany, which would lose in the overall tally for the first time since 1994, when the host Norwegians triumphed by two medals over the Germans at the Lillehammer Games.
The U.S. collected four medals yesterday to Germany’s two and increased its overall medal count to 32.
The U.S. women’s hockey team picked up a silver even in defeat to Canada in the gold medal game, while high-flying Jeret Peterson did the same in men’s aerials, narrowly missing out on gold.
The highlight of the day for the U.S. team, however, came in the large hill individual discipline of Nordic Combined, which combines ski jumping and cross-country skiing. For the first time in history, two Americans entered an Olympic stadium on cross-country skis in the front of a race.
Prior to this year, the United States had never before medaled in Nordic Combined. But the U.S. team will come away with a total of four medals from two individual events and a team relay in Vancouver. Yesterday, it was Bill Demong capturing America’s first ever gold medal in the sport with teammate Johnny Spillane, collecting his third silver medal in Vancouver, close behind.
With 16 sets of medals—48 total—still to hand out, it is possible for the Germans to make up the six-medal deficit on the United States, but it is also quite unlikely. Without a team in the men’s 5,000 meter short track relay or the men’s team pursuit in speed skating, and already eliminated in men’s hockey and men’s and women’s curling, Germany only has athletes competing in 11 of the 16 remaining events.
The Germans have medal hopefuls in almost all 11 of those remaining events (with the exception of the two individual short track races) and in some cases multiple contenders in the same event. However, they only have four or five athletes that would be considered medal favorites.
While it would take just one sweep of the podium in the women’s slalom, the four-man bobsled, or the men’s 50K cross-country ski race to put the Germans back in contention, it might be a tough task just to win seven more medals in Vancouver and surpass the Americans’ current tally.
With the Americans still favored to claim a couple of medals in short track and a medal in men’s hockey, however, the Germans would likely need to claim around 10 medals in the last three days in Vancouver to have a shot at eclipsing the American total.
The race for the most gold medals, however, remains wide open. Canada, Germany, and the United States are currently leading with eight, Norway is just behind with seven, and South Korea and Switzerland are in striking distance at six.
With gold medal favorites already advanced to the championship games of men’s and women’s curling, Canada seemingly has the inside track in the gold medal race. The men’s hockey team also has a favorable matchup with Slovakia in the semifinals today that should see them through to Sunday’s gold medal final.
Canada also has gold medal contenders in the men’s 500 meters of short track with Charles Hamelin, in the men’s snowboarding parallel giant slalom with Jasey-Jay Anderson, and in the women’s team pursuit in speed skating. Given the success of Canada’s two-woman bobsleds in taking gold and silver on their home track, the men’s four-man teams would seem to have an outside shot for gold as well.
Norway has its share of gold medal favorites as well. The men’s biathlon relay is widely expected to claim gold, and Marit Bjorgen and Petter Northug could win the final races of the Olympics in women’s and men’s cross-country skiing.
Germany also has enough gold medal contenders in play to challenge Canada for the most gold medals.
Maria Riesch, the gold medalist in the super combined, is the favorite to claim gold in the women’s slalom, and Andre Lange is the favorite to claim his fifth Olympic gold medal in the four-man bobsled. Tobias Angerer has a shot at gold in the men’s 50K cross-country ski event, Amelie Kober could contend in the women’s parallel giant slalom, and the women’s team in the speed skating pursuit event could challenge Canada for gold.
Sitting behind the other leading nations with six gold medals apiece, South Korea and Switzerland would both have to be considered long shots to win the gold medal race. The Koreans could take three more gold medals in short track tonight, but their chances end there. Swiss athletes only have outside chances at gold in the men’s and women’s snowboard parallel giant slalom events and the four-man bobsled.
The Americans have enough remaining medal hopefuls to win the gold medal race but will probably have to savor the seemingly more significant accomplishment of winning the overall medal count and, if they can win five more medals of any color to increase their total to 37 medals, possibly eclipsing the record for most medals won by a single nation at any Winter Olympics.
Apolo Anton Ohno could help add two medals for the United States tonight in the 500 meters and team relay event in short track, but is favored for gold in neither.
The U.S. four-man bobsled team could also challenge for gold but would have to overcome Germany’s four-time Olympic champion driver Andre Lange.
A talented U.S. ski team could also add to its record eight medals and pull off a surprise gold in the men’s or women’s slalom. Such a task would fall to Ted Ligety, Bode Miller, Julia Mancuso, or Lindsey Vonn. The slalom is not the specialty for any of them, but all four are Olympic champions and cannot be counted out. Ligety, however, probably offers the best hope and would love to make his first and only medal in Vancouver a gold one.
The U.S. team’s final chance for gold is in men’s hockey.
If the U.S advances past Finland and Canada does the same against Slovakia in today’s semifinals, there would undoubtedly be a lot at stake as the host nation tried to win the one medal that means the most to it at these Games against its archrival in hockey. But the tension and excitement would undoubtedly magnify if the distinction of having won the most gold medals in Vancouver was on the line as well.