U.S. Curling Teams Hungry For Sochi Hardware

By Amanda Manci | Feb. 09, 2014, 4 p.m. (ET)

Deborah McCormick during curling training on day 1 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at the Ice Cube on February 8, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

The U.S. curling team enters the Sochi Games hungry and eager to claim redemption after returning home from Vancouver without a medal.

“Our coaching staff and the support we’ve received have been tremendous to put us in a position to finally get up there and win a medal,” said three-time Olympian Erika Brown.

Led by Brown as the skip, the women’s team is comprised of seasoned veterans who all have Olympic experience, along with years of international experience. A seven-time national champion raised in a bloodline of curling – her father is a three-time curling national champion and her mother competed at the 1988 Olympic Winter Games, alongside Erika, when curling was a demonstration sport – Brown is all too familiar with high expectations heading into the Games.

“It’s important to perform under pressure,” she said. “Managing the stress and adrenaline of the situation is what will separate teams.” 

Joining Brown on the women’s side are teammates Debbie McCormick, who is the first four-time Olympian in curling, and two-time Olympians Jessica Schultz, Ann Swisshelm and Allison Pottinger. 

Pottinger, who skipped against the other four at the 2014 U.S. Olympic Trials and is serving as the team’s fifth, touched on her experience as the team’s newcomer. 

“I’m getting exposure to the loyalty they have toward each other, and I think it’s what makes this team really unique,” she said. “The team has been super welcoming. They are professional on the ice. Earlier we were competitors and we kept our distance from each other, but now we are playing together and it’s very different.”

The U.S. women are coming off a fourth-place finish at the 2013 World Championships and the 2013 national title. The team enters the Sochi Games ranked fifth in a pool of 10 teams. 

Meanwhile, the men’s team looks to win its first Olympic medal since 2006, when Pete Fenson’s team captured Team USA’s first bronze medal in Olympic history. Team USA’s skip for 2014 – John Shuster – was a member of Fenson’s 2006 Olympic team and led the U.S. to a 10th-place finish at the Vancouver Games. 

Shuster’s team consists of a blend of veteran leadership and young talent. The roster features 2010 Olympian Jeff Isaacson and Olympic newcomers Jared Zezel, John Landsteiner and two-time national champion Craig Brown.

Shuster heads into the Sochi Games with a confident approach. 

“Being a skip here for the second time, I feel a calmness that I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced, especially on the international stage,” he said.

Meanwhile, Zezel is soaking up the experience and the state-of-the-art rink.

“Sochi has been fabulous,” noted the squad’s youngest member. “The Opening Ceremony was something I will never forget. It was incredible walking out there in front of everyone supporting your country. The arena that we’re playing in is probably the nicest arena I’ve ever been in. It’s just been wonderful.”

Craig Brown – the brother of women’s team skip Erika Brown – is serving as the fifth for the men. “I think that the team looks good and feels good. I’m just here to help in any way I can, and we’re going to do well,” he said.

Brown and Shuster hope steady leadership and strategy – combined with strong sweeping – will lead the U.S. to a podium once more. 

Curling competition at the Sochi Games features 10 men’s and 10 women’s teams. The teams play in a nine-game round robin tournament, followed by a playoff format for the semifinals and medal rounds. 
Competition is contested at the 3,000-seat Ice Cube Curling Center, located in the Coastal Cluster within the Olympic Park. Curling competition begins Saturday, with the U.S. women facing Switzerland and the men facing Norway.