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US hauling in the hardware in Vancouver

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — So far, so gold.

The Americans are racking up medals on the snow and ice of Vancouver, making a run at finishing the Winter Olympics with the most hardware for the first time in nearly 80 years.

It looks like American snowboarder Nate Holland wasn't joking when he said U.S. athletes planned to "rent" the medal stand at these games — a shot at Canada's multimillion-dollar Own the Podium program.

"They are on fire," said Roger Jackson, who heads Canada's effort.

After just over a third of Vancouver's 90 medal events, the U.S. led the table with 18 medals and six golds. Olympic powerhouse Germany was next with 11, including four gold. Norway was third — eight overall, three golds.

The only time the U.S. has ever won the medals race at a Winter Games was in 1932, on home soil in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Despite the fast start, the U.S. Olympic Committee is trying to keep expectations in check.

"The team is certainly enjoying some additional success," Mike English, the USOC's director of sports performance, told The Associated Press on Thursday. "We're a little bit ahead of what we had anticipated, but we were being fairly conservative, so that's a good thing.

"But it's still just Day 7. There's still plenty of competition left."

Germany, Canada and the U.S. figure to battle it out for medal supremacy through the rest of the games, which wrap up Feb. 28.

Wednesday was a record-breaking day for the U.S. with six medals, including three golds won by marquee athletes Lindsey Vonn (women's downhill), Shani Davis (1,000-meter speedskating) and Shaun White (snowboard halfpipe).

It was the biggest haul for the U.S. on a single day at a Winter Olympics, beating the previous mark of five from Salt Lake City in 2002 — and tying the number of medals the Americans won at the entire 1988 Calgary Games.

"This will be a memory for all time," said Mike Plant, the U.S. team chief in Vancouver, who has participated in 15 Olympics as an athlete or official.

On Thursday, Vonn missed out on a second gold when she hooked the tip of her ski on a gate and fell in the slalom. But Julia Mancuso picked up the silver, becoming the most decorated American women's skier with three career Olympic medals.

U.S. women earned two medals in the halfpipe on Thursday night, with Hannah Teter taking silver and Kelly Clark bronze behind Australia's Torah Bright.

The U.S. count then increased to six golds and 18 medals in total when Evan Lysacek upset Russian defending champion Evgeni Plushenko for the men's figure skating title.

At the 2006 Turin Olympics, Germany finished on top with 11 golds and 29 in all. The U.S. had nine golds and 25 total. The best ever U.S. performance was in Salt Lake City — 34 total, 10 gold.

According to former Italian Olympic Committee official Luciano Barra, who tracks international results and issues regular medal projections, the U.S. is on course to finish the Vancouver Games with 12 gold medals and 31 in total.

The projections show Germany finishing with 30 medals, including nine gold, and Canada with 26 and six. The USOC has never disclosed its own medal projections for these games.

"We're certainly in the medal hunt," English said Thursday. "We take a look at the next couple of days and we're not expecting to have the medal performance that we had yesterday, but we still have a lot more competition to go through, with some events that we're strong in."

Canada, which instituted the $110 million Own the Podium program in hopes of securing the most medals, got a boost Thursday when Christine Nesbitt won the women's 1,000-meter speedskating race for the country's third gold.

But Jackson said Canada is eyeing a big Week 2 — with strong medal possibilities in speedskating, men's and women's hockey and curling, and parallel giant slalom.

Still, he said he wouldn't be surprised if the Americans finish on top.

"It's not a big issue," he said. "We set a target of trying to win the most number of medals. If we meet it, fine. If not, hopefully we'll be very, very close. It's not a problem if we come second."

The biggest medal disappointment so far has been Russia, which lagged far behind Thursday with just four medals, one of them gold.

The Soviet Union or Russia has always ranked among the top five — including eight times on top of the medal table — since competing in the Winter Games for the first time in 1956.

The Russians were hoping for 30 medals here. The nation will host its first Winter Games in 2014 in Sochi, and the failure in Vancouver has reverberated back home, where parliament members have called on top Olympic officials to resign.

Igor Lebedev, the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party's faction in the State Duma, said Russia's performance has brought "bitterness and insult" to the country.

A possible factor: Russia's athletes have been under scrutiny — and the target of rigorous out-of-competition drug tests — because of the country's doping record.

More than a half-dozen Russian biathletes and cross-country skiers have been suspended in the past year for doping offenses, and IOC president Jacques Rogge has urged President Dmitry Medvedev to crack down on the problem.