Canada's Rachel Homan misses Olympic playoffs with loss to Britain
Since curling made its return to the Winter Olympics in 1998, a Canadian team had never finished out of the medals in men's or women's curling.
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PYEONGCHANG, Korea, Republic Of — Canada is not the only curling powerhouse in the world, which may come as a surprise to those watching in dismay as Rachel Homan's team made an early exit from the Winter Olympics.
Homan and her teammates were uncharacteristically fragile in Pyeongchang, where they struggled with draw weight and half-made shots en route to their elimination from medal contention Wednesday.
The Ottawa foursome has the unwanted distinction of being the first Canadian curling team not to make the Olympic podium.
"A little bit disappointed," a stoic Homan said after a 6-5 loss to Britain ended their medal hopes. "We wanted to try and qualify and make playoffs for Canada, but we gave it all we had."
Host South Korea (7-1), Sweden (6-2), Britain (6-3) and Japan (5-4) claimed the semifinal spots.
Homan finished sixth at 4-5 after capping her Olympics with a 9-8 win over the Olympic Athletes form Russia.
Since curling made its return to the Winter Olympics in 1998, a Canadian team had never finished out of the medals in the men's or women's events.
Canada remained in contention on the men's side as Kevin Koe finished second at 6-3 behind Sweden's Niklas Edin (7-2).
The Canadians capped the round robin with an 8-3 win over Denmark's Rasmus Stjerne and face John Shuster of the U.S. (5-4) in Thursday's semifinal.
Edin awaits the winner of a tiebreaker between Britain and Switzerland.
Jennifer Jones going undefeated to win Olympic gold for Canada in 2014, and Homan also running the table en route to a world title in 2017, set a high bar for the team that represented Canada in South Korea.
But over the last decade of women's world curling championships, only two Canadian teams have won gold: Jones in 2008 and Homan. Switzerland, with four titles, China, Germany and Sweden have also won it.
The top European teams, and lately more Asian teams, are regulars in World Curling Tour events in Canada. Similar to hockey, they've drawn on Canada's depth, expertise and coaching.
Olympic curling in Pyeongchang is full of Canadians coaching other countries in both mixed doubles and team.
"Folks, let's wake up. Don't be hard on Rachel," said Canada's four-time men's world champion Glenn Howard, who coaches the Eve Muirhead British team that bounced Homan.
"The improvement from Vancouver to Sochi, from Sochi to here is unbelievable. Who would have thought certain countries would do as well as they did? I did.
"They're getting the knowledge, getting what they need to do. Whatever they feel they're missing in their game, they're going to find it and they're bringing it in."
Homan, third Emma Miskew, second Joanne Courtney and lead Lisa Weagle out of the Ottawa Curling Club had dialled back their professional and personal lives in pursuit of Olympic glory.
Homan beat a Canadian trials field that included Jones and other teams ranked among the world's best. It's considered the toughest Olympic qualifier internationally and top-notch prep for the Games.
But an 0-3 start in Pyeongchang was an early indicator confidence, and shotmaking, was lacking.
They rallied for three wins, but a loss to China put them back in the vise for the preliminary round's finale.
Canada had to beat Britain and the Russian team to avoid elimination Wednesday. The loss to the Brits dashed medal hopes before their final game.
"Feeling pretty disappointed," Weagle said. "This wasn't the result we wanted to have coming into the Olympics. Really wanted to have a chance to fight for a medal for my teammates and for Canada."
"It felt like a bit of a grind. Even the games we lost, it was just a shot here or there or some rock placement that could have gone better."
A draw for three that was light in the second end and an unforced error attempting to blank the sixth and keep hammer against Muirhead was a microcosm of Canada's overall performance.
Canada up 5-4 coming home without the hammer, Britain was already loading the top of the rings with their stones when Miskew ticked a guard.
Facing two British stones covering the button with her final shot, Homan had a difficult draw just to hold Muirhead to one and play an extra end. She was light again and the Canadians shook hands.
"We were just getting everyone's best game and that's what happens when you're the world champs," Miskew said. "A lot of teams struggling in earlier games came out and played amazing against us."
Added Howard: "The Maple Leaf is heavy. I've worn it a few times. You have to deal with that."
But the veteran insisted Canadian curling isn't in crisis.
"The track record we've had in Canada is second to none," Howard said. "To panic and say something like that is ridiculous.
"Settle down, folks."