Erika Brown of the U.S. curling team reacts during the team's loss to Canada.Lars Baron/Getty Images
Sochi was a bust for USA curling. Not as bad as Vancouver, where its teams finished dead last. But close.
The U.S. men finished ninth out of 10 teams here, beating only Germany and Denmark. And an all-star U.S. women’s team made up of world medalists and Olympic veterans finished last again, with a 1–8 record.
Never had the U.S. won so few games in an Olympic tournament. And, in contrast to theories about the shocking dearth of U.S. speedskating medals, no one can fault billowing stretch suits for this one.
“I felt we did everything we could,” said four-time Olympian Debbie McCormick. “I felt we were focused, prepared and ready."
“The fact is that the rest of the world got significantly better while we’ve just improved,” said Rick Patzke, the chief operating officer of USA Curling, who has been with the organization since 1996. “Now we have to fine-tune and identify what else we can do.”
After Vancouver in 2010, Patzke said the program did “an extensive internal and external review,” and revamped its high-performance program.
This year, USA Curling also imported 100 sets of stones from Scotland (at $8,000 a pop that can be paid off in five years) to distribute to clubs. (Curlers need one set of stones per lane of ice. The Ice Cube venue in Sochi, for example, had four lanes.)
And even though membership has grown 52 percent since 2002, at the Olympics the U.S. must be ready to compete against professionals who curl full time.
“Funding will always be an issue,” Patzke said. “We don’t have enough dollars for travel and training, much less cost-of-living expenses.”
Nonetheless, “we never gave up,” said McCormick, a 39-year-old curling supplies distributor. “We always had the fire and desire to win. We fought hard. We really did the best we could. But seven countries are going home without a medal.”
Historically, the U.S. women have placed as high as fourth (at the 2002 Salt Lake City games) and the men captured a bronze medal at the 2006 Turin games when they defeated Britain, 8–6, in a game for third place that was briefly halted by a professional streaker wearing a rubber chicken.
“The teams here made tremendous sacrifices,” Patzke said. “They’re the best in the U.S. We need to help them be the best in the world. That’s the challenge for us and them.”