Posted: Feb 23, 8:01p ET | Updated: Mar 1, 11:17a ET

Men, women sink like a stone in curling

VANCOUVER (AP) -- U.S. curling captain John Shuster stuck out his tongue in the middle of a match and uttered for all to hear on television at home, "I hate this stupid game."

Andrew Catalon and Colleen Jones of NBC discuss the disappointing tournament for Debbie McCormick and her American rink in the 2010 Winter Olympics.

His exasperation was understandable. Shuster won a bronze medal at the 2006 Torino Olympics and assembled a team of close friends for what he figured would be another special run in Canada.

On Monday, the U.S. conceded early in a loss to China in what has been an awful showing at the Vancouver Olympics: a 2-7 record and last place.

Shuster called his "stupid game" game remark "sarcasm." Teammate and longtime pal Jason Smith came to his defense.

"He doesn't mean it," he said. "That's just frustration."

The women, meanwhile, have their own problems. They are assured at least a share of last place with a match to go Tuesday night against Switzerland, which locked up the fourth seed for Thursday's semifinals.

"What's demoralizing for me is the amount of work and sacrifice we made this year," Shuster said. "I had a look back when we started 0-4 and it kind of seemed like it was over. ... With all the sacrifices we made it would have been nice to at least be rewarded by being in the chase a little longer."

The American men must regroup in a hurry before next weekend's nationals in Kalamazoo, Mich. The lineup won't feature Smith but rather Olympic alternate Chris Plys.

Jeff Isaacson didn't even want to think that far ahead, needing some time to decompress and come to terms with the Olympic disappointment.

"Just let this go," said Isaacson, whose team had three straight extra-end losses at one stage. "We missed shots early in the week. You get to 0-4 and there's not much you can do from there."

Shuster's bronze in 2006 marked the first Olympic medal by the U.S. in curling, not to mention the first in a major men's competition since 1978.

But this time, Shuster was benched in a major move by coach Phill Drobnick for a win against France on Friday because of his poor performance.

The women also made a lineup change: Skip Debbie McCormick pulled herself from the No. 4 shooting spot to go third when she failed to convert shots in the clutch. That, too, was a first.

The four-time reigning U.S. champion women, a close-knit group, might break up after the Olympics.

They aren't headed to nationals next week, getting a breather at long last. The 36-year-old McCormick wants to start a family. Nicole Joraanstad is getting married this summer, with her bridal party in Vancouver. She and her teammates will reconvene for Joraanstad's bachelorette party in Las Vegas in May.

"We were expecting to play better," Joraanstad said. "But the reality is, we didn't."

The Americans all literally kissed their national trophy goodbye before shipping it away for whoever gets it next. That in itself was an emotional thing, according to vice skip Allison Pottinger.

"I don't know what we're doing," she said. "We've never talked about post-Olympics. Take a little time away and think about it. We love each other. We love playing together."

These Olympics -- so close to home -- were supposed to give curling a lift in the U.S. But the results of both teams don't help matters.

While new curling members are being signed up from Seattle to San Francisco and clubs are popping up in places like North Carolina and Florida, USA Curling soon plans to re-evaluate its structure. There will be discussions about how it picks its national teams.

Both squads for these games qualified nearly a year ago. The favored Canadians, on the other hand, had their Olympic trials in December.

"From an organization standpoint it was great," Pottinger said. "Was it too long? I don't know. But I'm not sure six weeks is enough, either."

Drobnick figures it will be a good thing to consider such issues as the Americans begin moving forward toward the 2014 Sochi Games.

Smith, who started curling after Shuster got him on the ice when they were teens in Chisholm, Minn., isn't going to the nationals -- and might retire from the sport for a second time at 26. He said he will play in a smaller tournament next weekend while his teammates are in Michigan.

Like Joraanstad, Shuster is headed to the altar soon and will return to his regular gigs of bartending at the local curling club in Duluth, Minn., and working on a golf course grounds crew during the summer.

"We really came here and showed we belong from a strategy standpoint," Shuster said, "and I'm proud of that."

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