Curling – Can the United States redeem itself in Sochi?

By Garrett Miller

Both the men’s and women’s U.S. curling teams got their Olympic competitions off to a rough start last week, casting doubt over the possibility for redemption on a global stage.

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The United States is considered an underdog in the sport of curling, and neither the men or women are expected to medal in Sochi. The men’s team, captained once again by John Shuster, finished at the bottom of the pack four years ago in Vancouver, so anything but a last-place finish this year would be an improvement.

So far, though, it looks as if the international competition is proving too much for the Americans in both camps. The men dropped their opener to defending silver-medalist Norway by a score of 7-4, while skip Erika Brown and the U.S. women lost to Switzerland by the same score.

In the teams’ second matches of the 9-game round robin tournament, the men were drubbed by China 9-4, and the women lost in front of a boisterous crowd to host Russia by a score of 9-7.

Watching these matches, though, what has come across is a surprising inconsistency from both the winning and losing teams. Rocks are being thrown through the house with too much pace. Stones are over- or under-curling. Seasoned veterans are making uncharacteristic throwing errors, blowing the kind of straightforward shots they make 99 times out of 100 during practice.

U.S. women’s vice-skip (and skip on the Vancouver 2010 team) Debbie McCormick was overheard during her opening match against Switzerland as saying “I can’t throw anything.” Men’s skip Shuster has looked equally uncomfortable throwing the rock, blowing some great scoring opportunities when the U.S. has had the hammer (the final throw of the end).

This begs the question of whether this is simply a case of Olympic nerves in the early stages of the qualification round, or if there is a problem with the ice surface or equipment being used.

Either way, the United States teams will need to overcome their struggles with confidence if they want to find success in Sochi. There are still plenty of matches to be played, and it isn’t unheard of for a team to go 5-4 during the round robin and qualify for the finals.

However, after six matches played, the women sit at a disappointing 1-5 record and the men are at an only slightly better 2-4. With two thirds of the tournament left, the men will likely have to win all their remaining matches to have a chance at moving on, and the women are likely out of the running.

Will the United States men’s team win its second ever Olympic medal in curling at Sochi? Vote on our poll below.

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