McCormick, Shuster teams earn bids

BROOMFIELD, Colo. -- Debbie McCormick was rock solid on her last roll.

Because of it, her team is sliding on to the 2010 Vancouver Games, securing their bid by beating Patti Lank's squad 8-5 in the finals of the U.S. Olympic curling trials on Saturday.

On the men's side, John Shuster's squad earned a spot at the Olympics by beating Tyler George's team, 10-9. Shuster is making his second straight Olympic appearance, the first time as the leader of a team. He was a member of the bronze-medal winning squad at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin.

"Really, really excited," Shuster said. "Being at the Olympics already once, I know exactly what we're getting in for."

McCormick sealed the win for her team with a dazzling shot on the match's final rock, sending two of Lank's stones careening harmlessly out of the way.

Hardly an easy throw considering the circumstances. Yet she downplayed her roll.

"I wasn't worried we were going to air ball it or anything," McCormick nonchalantly said. "I just didn't overthink it."

Her squad had unflinching faith in her aim, knew the moment she released the rock that Team McCormick was bound for the Olympics.

"She threw it really good," vice skip Allison Pottinger said.

McCormick was in a similar position nearly four years ago, a berth at the '06 Winter Olympics riding on one of her throws.

She wasn't as rock solid then, sending the 42-pound stone inches too long, paving the way for Cassie Potter's team to take the bid.

That stung -- bad. It took her a while to recover.

But those ghosts are gone, vanquished from memory.

"I'm not one that really looks back," said McCormick, who lives in Rio, Wis. "I'm proud of my accomplishments."

She has another one to be fond of -- her winning throw.

McCormick's father and coach, Wally Henry, was standing off to the side, knowing she was going to wrap up the contest with the hammer.

She rarely misses with the match's last toss.

"Almost an automatic [shot for her]," Henry said. "She enjoys throwing that."

Shuster's squad caught a break in the last end when George's final attempt wound up outside of Shuster's stone, and well short of the circle.

"No excuse. I didn't make it," George said. "It's a shot that I'll make 99 times out of a 100 ... I didn't get it there."

That miss started the celebration for Shuster's crew of Jason Smith, Jeff Isaacson and John Benton, the group exchanging hugs and high fives.

"It's unreal. It really hasn't sunk in yet," Isaacson said.

In the middle of his team's revelry, Shuster went over to George and embraced him.

He knew his buddy was extremely bummed.

"I told him he had a fantastic week," said Shuster, who is from Duluth, Minn., along with George. "Before the game, we had a conversation, saying, 'Let's have a good game.' Either way, one of us was going to be unbelievably excited and the other was going to be heartbroken."

McCormick will be making her third trip to the Winter Olympics. She also was a member of the fifth-place team in 1998 at Nagano and the '02 squad that finished fourth in Salt Lake City.

This will be the first Olympic appearance for Nicole Joraanstad, Natalie Nicholson and Pottinger.

"This is fantastic," said Pottinger, who resides in Eden Prairie, Minn. "Normally, I'm not the big huggy, jump-and-down person. But I was on tears I was so excited."

The trials also doubled as the national championships, making McCormick and her squad 4-for-4 in the event since joining forces after the Olympic trials in '05.

They'll compete at the world championships in Korea in late March.

"This is a feeling of relief and satisfaction -- a hard week coming together," McCormick said. "It's the outcome we wanted and feel like we deserved."

For Lank, the competition was a disappointing end to her fourth Olympic trials. It's the second time she's finished runner-up.

An emotional Lank didn't want to talk after the contest.

"We did not play our complete best," said Chrissy Haase, the lead on Lank's squad. "We had great moments here and there, but we weren't as consistent as we needed to be to win this game."

After procuring their spot, the talk turns toward medals.

Can they?

Henry sure thinks so.

"They're going in with confidence," he said. "I feel very strong they'll win a medal, if not a very high medal."

The Nagano Olympics will always be special for McCormick. It's where her husband proposed to her.

However, the memory can be topped.

"A gold medal," she said, quickly glancing around to see if her husband was nearby. "No offense, honey."