By Jake Sweltz
In case you weren’t paying attention, the American curlers didn’t do so hot in Sochi this year. The men and women went a combined 3-15 in Round Robin play, with each team finishing at the bottom of the standings for a second straight Olympics. These results aren’t exactly shocking. The United States has never been a curling superpower. We’ve medaled only twice in Olympic history: men’s bronze in both Torino, 2006 and Albertville, 1992. It’s not like anyone was expecting the Americans to set the ice on fire this year.
Still, I’m a little disappointed.
Curling is one of the few Olympic events in which the U.S. doesn’t field formidable-to-dominant competition. Sure, It’s always fun to root for home team, but the Americans’ lowly reputation in this particular sport would have made a Cinderella run to the medal round all the more salivating. After all, it’s not often that the U.S. gets a chance to be David instead of Goliath.
This year’s curling squad had the chance to be our generation’s 1984 Olympic Hockey team. Or at least maybe our generation’s 2002 World Cup U.S. Soccer team, who defied the odds and made a miraculous run all the way to… the quarterfinals. That was kind of inspiring, right?
The point I’m trying to make here is that every four years, our stone-throwing American brethren have the chance to capitalize on an increasingly rare opportunity: to be the United States’ next Great Olympic Underdogs. And with every poor showing in the tournament round, that opportunity grows more and more ripe.
Unfortunately for American skips John Shuster and Erika Brown, the window might have already closed. Shuster, 31, just completed his third consecutive Olympic appearance, but as a new father and successful restaurant manager, it’s still unclear whether the veteran will be able to commit to a fourth go-around in 2018. Brown, meanwhile, is 41 years old and has already stated that Sochi is most likely her last Olympics. With a new generation of American curlers on the rise, the United States’ Olympic prospects in this event seem as inconsequential as ever. But I’m not giving up hope.
Like tons of other casual observers, I’ve grown very fond of Olympic curling over the past few Games. It’s a marvelous spectator sport; tense and cerebral and goofy as hell. Dozens of U.S. broadcasters have talked about the game’s idiosyncrasies as if they were obstacles to be overcome by the average American viewer. The underlying implication is always something along the lines of, if you can just get past how bizarre this sport looks, we promise you’ll really enjoy it. But I’ve never understood this tendency to preemptively defend the event. To me, the eccentricity of curling is what makes it so charming in the first place.
The most hilarious thing I read during this year’s games in Sochi was this article in the Sydney Morning Herald, which detailed how Russia’s banning alcohol during sporting events was against “the Spirit of Curling.” The way I see it, any sport that counts drunken revelry among its most essential cultural principles is a sport that Americans get behind.
Now let’s wrap this up with a quick collection of Sochi’s best curling faces: