Will Germany catch the U.S. in the overall medal count?

The last time the United States won the medal count at a Winter Olympics was in 1932. After a quick start in Vancouver catapulted the U.S. to the top of the tally (four medals on the first day of competition), hopes have been high that the 2010 Games would give the nation an unexpected victory in the medal race. But with Germany just three medals behind in the overall count, can the U.S. hold on to the top spot?

The three-medal lead is more tenuous than it seems, but there's an excellent chance the U.S. can hold off the Germans to make history at the Winter Olympics. If it happens, it would be just the second time in history that any country other than Norway, Germany or Russia took home the biggest haul. (And — it goes without saying to people with any sense of geography — a U.S. win would also mark just the second time ever that a non-European country ever won the winter count too.)

At first glance it might appear that the U.S. would be likely to relinquish its grasp of No. 1. American athletes have excelled in two things thus far in Vancouver: Alpine skiing and nontraditional sports like snowboarding, freestyle skiing and short-track speedskating. The worry was that many of the events in those disciplines were all front-loaded into the Olympic schedule and the remaining ones don't feature as many strong Americans (aerials, slaloms, speedskating relays).

The good news for Americans is that Germany's best events are finished too. The luge competition is complete, and the remaining biathlon events are not German strengths. The nation won 10 combined medals in those two disciplines, almost half of its total.

For those reasons, we think the U.S. holds on to the medal-count lead by a slim margin. Here are Fourth-Place Medal's projections for the rest of the Olympics:

Alpine Skiing: The remaining three events may determine which country comes out on top. Germany's Maria Riesch and Kathrin Hoelzl are favorites in both remaining women's races, but the U.S. has been an unexpected force so far in Vancouver, so don't be surprised if Julia Mancusco follows up her 2006 giant slalom gold with another medal in Vancouver. And never count out Lindsey Vonn or Bode Miller. Prediction: Germany +2.

Bobsled: Germany and the United States are medal favorites in both the men's four-man and women's two-woman races. The question is, can Germany 2 get on the stand too? Prediction: Even.

Cross-country skiing: The U.S. has no medal shot in the four remaining events. Germany can contend in the 4 x 10k relay. Prediction: Even.

Ice hockey: One medal will be earned in hockey by the U.S. (the women play Canada in the gold medal game on Thursday). Can the men win another? We say yes. Prediction: U.S. +2.

Nordic combined: Yes, America, your Nordic combined squad is expected to medal in all three events on the Olympic schedule. Only one problem: Germany is expected to medal in the two remaining events also. Prediction: Even.

Short-track speedskating: If you'd like to count out Apolo Ohno in the 500, do so at your own risk. Both American relay teams could medal too. We'll be conservative and project a one-medal advantage for the U.S. here. Prediction: U.S. +1

Long-track speedskating: Three medal events remaing and the Germans are realistic medal hopefuls in two. The Americans don't figure to do so well in them, thanks in large part to Shani Davis' decision to skip the men's team pursuit. You'll know who to blame if the U.S. loses the count by one medal. Prediction: Germany +2

Biathlon, curling, freestyle skiing, figure skating, luge, skeleton, ski jumping, snowboard: These sports have already concluded or have events remaining in which neither the U.S. nor Germany is expected to win a medal. Prediction: Even.

Final medal projections: United States, 33 — Germany, 31


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