Curling: Canadians curl their way into the history books
At Sochi’s Ice Cube Curling Centre, Canada underlined their credentials as the heavyweights of the international curling scene, clinching an unprecedented double in the men’s and women’s tournaments. For the men, that meant a unique hat-trick of back-to-back titles. Their female counterparts meanwhile scored an Olympic first of their own, racking up eleven consecutive wins to finish the tournament unbeaten.
The first week of competition at the Ice Cube provided curling fans with a veritable feast, as between them the men and women played three sessions a day in a round-robin format that saw all 10 teams in each tournament play against each other for the right to progress to the last four.
10-17 February: Women’s round-robin phase
Spearheaded by skip Jennifer Jones, the Canadians swept aside all-comers during the first round, defeating all nine of the other teams to secure top spot in the round-robin standings and qualify for the semi-finals with three matches to spare.
Aside from Canada’s unprecedented 9-0 invincible streak, the women’s round-robin produced another notable first when Eve Muirhead’s Great Britain scored seven points out of a maximum eight in one end – something never achieved before on the Olympic stage – as they swept aside USA 12-3. The British, who finished the round-robin with five wins and four defeats, secured a semi-final encounter with Canada in the last four, while Switzerland (5-4) and Sweden (7-2) set up a rendezvous in the other last-four match.
10-18 February: Men’s round-robin phase
Niklas Edin’s Swedish rink (8 wins, 1 defeat), Brad Jacobs’ Canada (7-2), and Rui Liu’s Chinese debutants (7-2) enjoyed the best of the 10-team round-robin stage, to achieve direct qualification for the last four. That left Great Britain and Norway, tied in fourth place on 6 wins and three defeats, to contest a tie-break for the final semi-final berth. In a tense climax which went down to the last stone of the final end, David Murdoch’s British rink edged it 6-5 to set up a meeting with Sweden.
19 February: Women’s semi-finals
Canada opened up an early 3-0 lead against Great Britain after two ends, before Eve Muirhead’s rink narrowed the gap to 3-2. The Canadians regained the advantage, taking a 4-3 lead into the halfway point, and then the next three ends saw just one more point scored, as Jones added a steal to make it 5-3.
The British pulled one back in the penultimate end to set up a tense climax, in which Jones capitalised on last stone advantage to dislodge two British stones and grab a steal for a 6-4 win and a place in the final. “It’s a dream come true!” said Jones. “The whole Olympic experience has been a dream come true and now that we’re playing in the gold medal game – that’s all you could ask for in sport. It was a great team effort.”
In the other semi, Switzerland and Sweden cancelled each other out for much of the contest, and were locked together at 3-3 at the halfway stage. In the seventh end, the Swede’s edged in front 4-3, before the Swiss struck back to lead 5-4 with two ends to play. Sweden’s fourth player Maria Prytz then produced the shot of the match, to score two points and reclaim the lead going into the tenth end. When the Swiss skip Mirjam Ott missed the chance for a two-pointer, the Swedes seized the opportunity for a steal to win the match 7-5. “It’s great to know we are guaranteed a medal because we can just go into the final and do our best,” commented Sweden’s fourth player Maria Prytz. “We’re going for gold now. It’s going to be a good game against Canada.”
19 February: Men’s semi-finals
Sweden opened with last stone advantage, having topped the round-robin standings, but it was David Murdoch’s rink that took the early initiative. Sweden fought back to lead 2-1 after three ends, only for The British to level at 2-2 at the hallway mark. The scores remaining tied at 3-3 after seven ends, after which the lead changed hands two more times, setting up a final end with Sweden leading 5-4. With the pressure very much on Murdoch the British skip produced an icy delivery with his final stone to take two points and a 6-5 win, sending the British rink into the final for the first time since 1924.
“It’s just incredible,” said Murdoch after reaching the final. “I’ve been trying for 12 years to get an Olympic medal and now we’re going to get one. Words just can’t explain. It was an incredible team display and we’re just so happy to make the gold medal game.”
In the other semi-final, Canada defeated China 10-6 to maintain a proud record of having reached every final since curling was reintroduced to the Winter Games programme at Nagano 1998. Brad Jacobs’ rink had started cautiously, before opening up a 4-2 lead a the halfway stage. The Chinese drew level in the sixth end, but then Jacobs produced an inspired showing in the following end to restore Canada’s lead with a three-point cushion.
China fought back again, reducing the gap to 7-6 in the penultimate end, but Jacobs had the last word, once again scoring three points in the decisive to book Canada’s place in the final yet again. “This was the goal,” said Jacobs. “We wanted to get into the play-offs and then put together a good game in the semi-final, and now we get to play in the final - it's awesome.”
20 February: Women’s medal matches
Canada took their revenge on Sweden, who had pipped them to the title four years earlier, with a 6-3 win to seal gold and an eleventh consecutive win at the Ice Cube. In an evenly matched and cagey contest, the two rinks went into the penultimate end tied at 3-3. When Sweden missed a chance to take the upper hand, Jennifer Jones’ rink capitalised to score three points and take a commanding lead into the final end. They then mounted an impenetrable blockade to prevent any further scoring, forcing a concession before the end had been played out.
“It's hard to convey how amazing we feel!” said Jones. “The girls just played great. This was just the best week of our lives and the biggest competition of our lives.” Her third player Kaitlyn Lawes added: “It's a dream come true to be able to be at the Olympics with these girls, it's amazing, they're so talented and I'm so proud of everyone.”
Earlier, in the bronze medal match, Switzerland gained the upper hand in the early exchanges, leading 3-1 after four ends. But in the fifth, Eve Muirhead conjured two points to tie the score, and finally took the lead, 5-4, in the eight. The Swiss equalised in the penultimate end to set up a grandstand finish. The stage was set for Muirhead, who used her final stone to good effect, scoring the decisive point for a 6-5 victory and a place on the podium.
“It's a dream come true,” said Muirhead, who also skipped the British rink to the 2013 world title. “This is the medal we've been missing and to win it with four of my best friends feels so special. It shows what great athletes we are. To lose a semi-final at the Olympics and then come back and play for bronze is extra tough. We regrouped and came out fighting.”
21 February: Men’s medal matches
Canada needed just eight ends to see off Great Britain 9-3 in the final. Already 5-1 up after the first three ends, Brad Jacobs’ rink proved just too hot to handle with a formidable combination of aggressive attacking play and iron-clad defence. In the sixth end the Canadian skip made matters worse for the British, scoring a two-pointer to extend the lead to 8-2, and though David Murdoch got one back in the next end, Canada restored the six point advantage in the eighth which was enough to produce a concession from the British skip.
Canada’s E.J. Harnden, who competed alongside his brother Ryan, said that he had been inspired by the Sochi exploits of another Canadian sibling act, Justine and Chloé Dufour-Lapointe, who won gold and silver in the moguls. “I watched the Dufour-Lapointe sisters and honestly I held back tears watching that moment at the Olympics," said the older Harnden brother.
“They're standing on the podium side by side, one step down, and I thought it would mean the absolute world to me do to that with my brother. No matter what happens from here on, I’ll never ever forget the moment of standing on the podium with my brother.”
Earlier in the day, reigning world champions Sweden secured the bronze with a 6-4 victory over China that was low on scoring but high on drama, and which required an extra end to separate the two rinks. Swedish skip Edin managed to hold his nerve to secure the winning two points with his last stone, after the first 10 ends had produced a 4-4 stalemate. “It feels amazing,” said a relieved Edin. “We had a fourth place finish in Vancouver so we needed this,” he said. “Fourth place again would have been devastating for our team.”