US men pushed to brink

Jason Smith and the American men (2-5) are on thin ice after a 4-2 loss to Great Britain. Jason Smith and the American men (2-5) are on thin ice after a 4-2 loss to Great Britain. (Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press)
Associated Press / February 22, 2010

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - The US men’s Olympic curling run is all but over.

Scottish skip David Murdoch’s British team handed the foursome a 4-2 loss yesterday, dropping the Americans to 2-5, practically assuring their elimination from semifinal contention.

Murdoch’s world champion team is 4-3. It bounced back from a tough loss to Canada a night earlier and pulled out a big win to boost its playoff chances.

The Americans went ahead with a point in the second. Murdoch then scored a go-ahead deuce in the fifth before stealing one in the sixth when Jason Smith had last stone. Smith picked up a point in the eighth.

Things aren’t looking much better for the US women, who lost their second shortened game of the day late last night, falling, 9-3, to defending gold medalist Sweden after an earlier loss to Canada.

The Americans still struggled even after a lineup change. Fighting back tears, US skip Debbie McCormick pulled herself out of the fourth position after a morning loss and threw third stone in another tough one. Allison Pottinger shot last rock.

The Americans were more accurate in their shot-making but not aggressive enough against a fired-up Sweden team, which was handed its first loss Saturday in a rout by Russia.

Kevin Martin’s Canadian men have locked up the No. 1 seed for the semifinals after a hard-fought victory against Switzerland. Countrywoman Cheryl Bernard is on the verge of securing a playoff spot of her own for the women’s team.

Martin kept saying he had to get his team to 4-1 and then 7-2 in round-robin play.

How about 7-0? That will definitely do after Martin’s brilliant final shot in yesterday’s 6-4 win.

What a run it’s been so far for the favored Canadians with the 43-year-old “Old Bear’’ Martin leading his team with all the poise in the world.

Coupled with the women’s rout of the US, the home country is now 12-0 on the curling ice in Vancouver.

“The men, it was expected,’’ Bernard said. “We were definitely the underdog with the lack of international experience. We’re getting it quick, the experience that we need, and working really well with it.

“To be unbeaten at this point, we hadn’t planned to be. It’s nice, really, it gives us a little bit of an edge to keep going forward and lots of confidence.’’

Martin’s team seems poised to run the table and defend the country’s gold from 2006 - especially after beating the reigning world champion British foursome Saturday. That ended a four-game losing streak to Murdoch. The Canadians’ only remaining games leading up to the semifinals are against the Americans and China.

At the same time, the pressure is starting to show on 19-year-old British curler Eve Muirhead.

The Scottish skip pounded a stone in frustration after giving up a four-spot to Switzerland in the Brits’ 10-6 shortened nine-end loss earlier yesterday. It was their third straight defeat following a promising Olympic start.

Muirhead missed the winner against the US when she had the final rock in a 6-5 loss on Saturday. She also was upset with the screaming fans who made it tough on her last attempt.

“It was asking a lot of ourselves to come back from that, and we did our best out there,’’ Muirhead said. “A lot of slack shots out there.’’

The Brits (3-4) have hurt their medal hopes. They opened with a 5-4 win over world champion China and had impressive victories against France and Germany before this skid.

“I don’t think we’re down and out yet,’’ Muirhead said.