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U.S. curling teams head home empty handed

Members of the U.S. Curling Team clear the path for their rock in the women's match against China.  (Harry E. Walker/MCT)
Members of the U.S. Curling Team clear the path for their rock in the women's match against China. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — In one of the first scenes of "Men with Brooms," easily one of the five best curling movies ever made, actor Paul Gross' character describes a curling stone as "a repository of human possibility and if it's handled just right it will exact a kind of poetry."

What he didn't talk about was how bad things can get when the 42-pound chunk of granite is mishandled even the slightest bit.

It's anything but poetic. Just ask the U.S. curling teams who found this out the hard way as their Olympics came to an end Tuesday without a medal and perhaps having blown a golden opportunity.

The teams entered the Games hosted by a curling-crazed country hoping for a strong showing that would help interest in their game spill over the border.

They even attempted to launch the hip marketing gimmick of the Games by selling Hurry Hard (it's a curling term) Condoms.

Nothing went as planned.

Round Robin play ended Tuesday night with both the men and women in last place. Interest in the condoms faded prematurely. And at one point things got so frustrating TV cameras caught men's skip John Shuster saying "I hate this stupid game."

Hardly the stuff that's going to send Americans clamoring for their brooms.

"It's unfortunate," said Nicole Joraanstad. "We've been working really hard. We were expecting to play better, but the reality is we didn't."

As it became evident during the Olympic bonspiel (that's curler talk for tournament) was slipping away for the teams, both took dramatic actions to right the ship.

Shuster, a member of the bronze medal team in '06, was benched Friday during his team's loss to France. And women's skip Debbie McCormick pulled herself from the fourth and most important shooting position because she was playing poorly.

"I wouldn't say it's unheard of," McCormick said of the lineup changes, "but it's not normal."

Part of the reason for the American's struggles was showcased Tuesday morning in the women's 6-5 loss to China.The spiel (that's a game) was close, but the rinks (those are teams) are quite different.

The women on the Chinese team are full-time athletes. None of the U.S. athletes have that luxury.

Joraanstad works in human resources for a telecom company in Madison, Wis. McCormick works at a Home Depot. Schuster is a bartender and works on a golf course grounds crew.

Trying to juggle a career, family and curling can be overwhelming.

So overwhelming, in fact, that the women's team has decided to literally kiss their national championship trophy goodbye.

Before the Olympics they each gave the trophy a peck then shipped it off to USA Curling who'll hand it out to somebody new for the first time in four years.

The women say they've decided the demands of work and family override another month on the road defending their title and returning to the world championships.

"If I didn't have a full-time job or I didn't need it or if we had oodles of sponsorship then we would absolutely play it," Joraanstad said.

The men's team will defend its national title.

Joraanstad, 29, is getting married July 17 and her teammates will serve as her bride's maids. At some point during the preparation and partying the team will decide if they will continue to play together.

While they've won the last four national titles, they've had mixed success on the world stage. They won a silver medal at the '06 world championships, but nothing since.

"But we will continue to play," Joraanstad said.

McCormick, who played in the 2002 Olympics, is 36 but hopes to be back in the Olympics in 2014.

And while it might not have much to do with their performance at the Vancouver Games, she hopes interest in the sport starts to rise in the U.S. Her team needs tougher competition to prepare it for international play.

"There are some good teams in the United States but not as many as in Canada," McCormick said. "We can't just go to a women's tournament. The competition is not good enough for us so we do have to travel."

One of the reasons McCormick and her teammates believe newcomers will enjoy curling is traditions like broomstacking.

Broomstacking is post match socialization that calls for the winning team to buy drinks for the loser.This tradition would have saved the Americans a few bucks as they drowned their sorrows Tuesday night.

But as luck would have it, not even that is going their way this week.

"We don't do that at the Olympics," Joraanstad said with a chuckle. "... It's all business."

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