Friday, February 26, 2010

USA Owns the Winter Olympics Podium


Going into these current Winter Olympics games the host Canadians had built their national program up with the motto "Own the Podium!" for years. But as the games wind down it hasn't been the hosts but their southern American neighbors who have actually dominated the medals podium.

The current medal counts with just a couple of days of competition remaining show the United States with 8 gold, 12 silvers and 12 bronze for a total of 32 overall medals, six more than the 2nd place Germans. Noway is in 3rd place with 19, the Canadians are at 17, and the traditional power from Russia sits with just 13 medals.

It hasn't always been this dominant for the American team at the Winter Olympics. The cold weather games highlighted by competitions in alpine skiing, ice skating, hockey, bobsledding and other competitions across ice and snow have taken place since Chamonix in 1924.

The overall Winter Olympics medal leader of all-time with 603 is Norway. The rugged western Scandanavian nation with great mountainous regions is one of the farthest north in all of Europe. It's hardy and talented athletes are the only in the world to have earned more than 100 gold medals, standing at 106 as of today.

The USA team has accumulated the 2nd most medals in Winter Olympics history with a current total of 491, and their 87 gold medals are also 2nd all-time. But recent years had not been kind to the U.S. winter contingent.

At Nagano, Japan in 1998 the U.S. finished 6th with just 13 overall medals, the same total and the same finish as they had four years earlier at Lillihammer, Noway. In 1992 at Albertville, France the total had been just 11 for a 6th place finish. The last time that the Winter Olympics were held in Canada, at Calgary in 1988, the U.S. team won just 6 medals, tied for 8th place overall. They had won 8 medals at Sarajevo, Yugoslavia in 1984, tied for 5th.

In the Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, New York in 1980, the Americans won a total of 12 medals, finishing 3rd overall. This was the best the team had done in two decades until they came home once again at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. This was the true coming out party for the team. That year the team finished 2nd with 34 total medals, just one behind the Germans.

Four years ago, at Torino, Italy in 2006, the total slipped to 25, but that was still good enough for 2nd to the Germans 29 total. In these current Vancouver games the Americans have finally overcome the German squad, leading them by a 32-26 count with just a couple of days remaining.

The stars for the American men have included the new team all-time leading medalist, speedskater Apollo Anton Ono, as well as his gold medal-winning teammate Shani Davis, skiers Bode Miller, Johnny Spillane and Bill Demong, figure skating champ Evan Lysacek, Gen X ski-boarders Shaun White and Seth Wescott, and the hockey team led by goaltender Ryan Miller.

The talented women's team includes downhill skiers Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso, Gen X skiers and snowboarders Shannon Bahrke, Kelly Clark and Hannah Teter, bobsleigh bronzers Erin Pac and Elana Meyers, and the women's hockey team which finished with the silver medal. Meryl Davis teamed with Charlie White to take the ice dancing silver.

There remain about a dozen and a half medals still up for grabs over the final three days of these games, and the American team has a chance to continue to add to it's leading totals, particularly in short-track speedskating and downhill skiing. In addition, the USA men's hockey team puts it's unbeaten record on the line in the semi-finals vs. Finland this afternoon. A win could set up a sensational gold medal rematch with Canada on Sunday.

All in all it has been a spectacularly successful Winter Olympics in Vancouver for the United States Olympic Committee and Team USA. The host Canadians have been frustrated by not only the medal count, but the embarrassment and tragedy of some poor snow and fog conditions, torch malfunctions, equipment failures, and a death due to an unsafe luge track. Instead it has been the Americans who for the first time have truly owned the podium.

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