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Speedskaters, Vonn seek gold

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Lindsey Vonn, relegated to second billing? How about third?

It could be that kind of Saturday.

Vonn competes for the third time at the Vancouver Games when she skis the super-G, and by the time the night is over, Americans could have even more to cheer about. A pair of speedskaters have a chance to make history — Apolo Anton Ohno by winning his seventh Olympic medal and Shani Davis by taking his third gold.

NBC will televise Ohno’s 1,000-meter short track race and Davis’ 1,500 on the long track in prime time — along with Vonn’s event, of course. Ohno is tied with Bonnie Blair for most career medals by a U.S. Winter Olympian, and Davis is trying to become the only American besides Blair and Eric Heiden to win more than two golds in speedskating.

Occasionally overshadowed by a talented skier or a Miracle by the hockey team, American speedskaters have been impressive over the years. Coming in to the 2010 Games, the U.S. had won 28 gold medals in speedskating, over twice as many as in any other sport at these Winter Games.

“I think the sport is going to grow,” Davis said. “Unlike (at the 2006 Games), there’s more focus on speedskating here in Vancouver.”

Whether it’s Heiden winning five golds in 1980, or Blair taking five golds and a bronze over a six-year span, American speedskaters always seems to earn their share of attention. Even Dan Jansen, for all his mishaps, once held world records in the 500 and 1,000 at the same time, and his victory in the latter was perhaps the biggest feel-good moment of the 1994 Games.

This year has been more of the same. Ohno tied Blair’s mark with a silver medal in the 1,500, and Davis defended his Olympic title in the 1,000.

“For me, from a results standpoint, anything more is icing on the cake,” Ohno said. “I’m enjoying every moment.”

Davis was second in his 1,500 at the Turin Games in 2006, and he’s the reigning world champion and world record holder at the distance. Chad Hedrick might also be a threat. He was third in the 1,500 in Turin, and his third-place finish in the 1,000 this week proved the 32-year-old Texan has something left.

“I think this race has been on the calendar for a while,” Hedrick said. “This is what it’s all about for us. Shani’s already got one in the bag, so the pressure is on me.”

In 2006, the 1,500 turned into a soap opera thanks to a nasty feud between Davis and Hedrick stemming from team pursuit. Davis wanted to stick with his individual events, a decision that annoyed Hedrick, who believed it cost the Americans a shot at a medal.

The hard feelings were obvious at a news conference after the 1,500. Hedrick brought up the team pursuit, and Davis stormed out of the room complaining that Hedrick didn’t congratulate him on his gold at that Olympics, only the silver.

The hostility has subsided since. Now both skaters are hoping to add to an already-impressive medal haul by the U.S. at these games.

And let’s not forget Vonn, who won the downhill before faltering in the super-combined. Now it’s on to the super-G, the American’s third of five events.

“Lindsey has her gold medal,” Vonn’s husband, Thomas Vonn, said after the super-combined. “She got what she wants. This is bittersweet but she’ll do well in the super-G.”

The super-G starts in the morning but will be aired during prime time. It’ll be a crowded night for NBC, which also plans to show Ohno, Davis and some bobsledding in that time slot. Earlier in the day, ski jumper Simon Ammann of Switzerland will try for his second gold medal of the Vancouver Games. He already won on the normal hill, and the final round on the large hill is Saturday.

Ammann won those two individual events at the 2002 Games but didn’t win a medal four years ago. He can become the first ski jumper with four individual Olympic titles. Finland’s Matti Nykanen won four gold medals, but one was in a team event.

“It’s amazing how good I feel and it just goes on,” Ammann said. “I keep being amazed by my performances.”