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Big day ahead for big-name Americans

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The United States has already won more medals than it did the last time the Olympics were in Canada — and the best may be still to come.

Of course, at the Vancouver Games, nothing is guaranteed.

Lindsey Vonn, Shaun White, Shani Davis and Apolo Anton Ohno are all competing today in what is shaping up as the most intriguing day so far for the U.S. Those four Americans had high hopes coming in to the 2010 Games, although it’s been anything but smooth sailing for a couple of them.

NBC will showcase the four in prime time today. Vonn is skiing in the downhill, and White will compete in the halfpipe. Davis will try for gold in 1,000-meter speedskating, and Ohno races in preliminary short track heats.

“I’ve given up a lot in my life and my career to be here,” Vonn said. “I hope it all pays off.”

Even after being shut out Tuesday, the U.S. has won eight medals so far, one behind first-place Germany. The Americans won only six medals at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary.

Granted, some sports have been added to the program since, but the U.S. has shown progress in traditional events, too, winning a medal in Nordic combined for the first time over the weekend. Even Bode Miller managed a bronze medal in the men’s downhill, redeeming himself a bit for his 2006 flameout.

Now, the stage is set for some of the headliners of these Olympics, but will they live up to the hype?

Vonn has endured the most adversity, battling an injured shin. She hasn’t competed yet because of uncooperative weather that delayed some Alpine events, so it’s hard to say how she’ll fare. Today’s downhill is her top event.

“I was just trying to fight my way down,” Vonn said after training Monday. “I know I can grit my teeth and do it.”

Davis finished 12th in the 5,000, nearly 14 seconds behind winner Sven Kramer. He was matched up in a pairing against Kramer, so viewers had a chance to see exactly how wide the gulf was between the two skaters.

In the 500, Davis placed 18th in the first of two heats and then called it a day, already looking ahead to the 1,000. That’s the event Davis won at the 2006 Games, and he’s also the world record holder.

Davis could face a challenge from 500 champion Mo Tae-bum of South Korea.