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Olympics Canada’s Olympic women’s curling team will be remembered for one thing: dropping the curling ball

Since they had no way to explain what happened to them here at the Winter Olympics, the Canadian women's curling rink didn't try.

After being eliminated from the Games on Day 12, Rachel Homan rolled out the same talking points that would have applied had she won.

"We just played a really good game," Homan said. "We gave it all we had. We never gave up."

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And then later: "I thought we played really well."

But when asked about not meeting the expectations inherent in curling for Canada under the rings, Homan couldn't find a cliché to fit the purpose: "I don't really have much to say about that."

They may have given it their all, but Homan and her teammates did not play well here. They most specifically did not play well in the last end of Wednesday's game against Great Britain.

Leading 5-4, Canada collapsed mentally and physically – allowing the Brits to load up the house, then inadvertently hitting guards and missing takeout shots. Homan still had a chance to steal something at the end, but wasn't close. Britain won 6-5.

After losing, the Canadian rink hurried off the ice. Tears were shed, but only before and after interview duty.

Were this any other team in any other sport, you'd shrug and say, "Good try, good effort. This is why they play the games." But since it is curling in Canada, this feels like the end of an era.

The last time any curler representing this country failed to make the podium at an Olympics, William Lyon Mackenzie King was prime minister. For the first time.

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That stress was compounded by Jennifer Jones' breeze through the competition last time out in Sochi. For people who only wake up to curling once every four years – most of us – Jones left the impression that Canada could not lose if it tried.

So if all athletes feel pressure, someone like Homan would have felt it geologically – layers of it, piled up over decades.

Former Canada skip Glenn Howard is here coaching the British team. Though he's never competed at a Winter Games, he tried to describe what it must be like.

"There's a lot of weight. That maple leaf is heavy," Howard said, trying hard to be kind. "Rachel and the girls weren't themselves."

With that out of the way, Howard described how he sent the British straight at Canada – "an aggressive, simple style" – believing they'd crumble at the end. Whatever reputational forcefield Canada carried into this tournament, it malfunctioned early. By the end, no one was afraid of Homan, though Homan and her teammates seemed afraid of everyone else.

What shocked more than the poor results were how they looked in relation to Homan's advance billing.

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Her rink didn't lose a game at last year's world championships. They're the only women's team ever to do that. Then they won everything else.

After qualifying for these Games in her hometown of Ottawa in December, Homan said, "It's something I could never have dreamt of when I was little … we couldn't have written a better story."

Though an obscure figure in the general sports discussion, Homan was runner-up for the 2017 Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada's top athlete. During that the debate to decide that award, someone described her as "the Michael Jordan of curling."

So, you know, no pressure.

Ahead of the Games, you would have called Homan and teammates Emma Miskew, Joanne Courtney and Lisa Weagle a mortal lock for a medal. Everybody else certainly did. Maybe that was the problem.

After the boat flipped, Homan's shattered teammates grabbed onto the one life preserver left to them – the improved competition gambit.

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"For the most part, we were pretty consistent," said Miskew. "We were just getting everyone's best game."

It is true that the curling world is coming up to Canada; but Canada also fell back to the world.

Going from a historic run through the sport to five losses in eight games isn't bad luck. It's an issue of physical performance. It's a mental collapse. The idea of what it all means gets into your head, and you start thinking about it.

Clearly, the tipping point was an early loss to Denmark, a country that finished dead last at the same world championships Homan cruised through.

The burned rock controversy coming out of the game put Canada in unfamiliar territory – Olympic bully. The Homan team's martial aspect turned positively paramilitary after that. Faces got tighter; interviews got shorter; answers became pre-programmed.

Even after Wednesday's loss, the whole team came out and hit all the same beats, including the old "nobody puts more pressure on us than we put on ourselves." Which, when you think about it, doesn't make anything better. It is the simulation of personal responsibility, rather than admitting that sometimes, no matter how good you are, you just don't have it.

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You feel for Olympic athletes in this regard. Professionals are free to admit when they've pooched it because they've got another one the next night, or next week or next season. Their opportunities are endless and the public memory is short. You're only ever one goal from erasing your last miss.

Since no Canadian women's rink has ever competed twice in a Games, there's probably no "next time" for Homan. This was a one-off.

That makes it more difficult to tell the truth – "we blew it" – either to yourself or to all the half-interested people who connected your name to your face for the first time a week ago.

Homan's team will play and win again. They will continue to be big stars in a small world. At the end of their careers, they'll all need to buy a house together to hold all their silverware.

But from perspective of Canada, they will be remembered for one thing – as the team that dropped the curling ball.

It's also great story, if not the one Homan had hoped to write.

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That may be cruel, but it is also the essence of the Olympics. Because if losing can't hurt, then winning doesn't matter.

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