SOCHI, Russia (AP) — First, the good news for Britain’s women curlers — they are through to the semifinals of the Olympic Games.
The bad news? Undefeated Canada lies in wait.
It was a bittersweet night for the British at the Ice Cube Curling Center on Monday, as the round-robin stage reached its climax with Eve Muirhead’s team joining Switzerland in completing a powerful-looking lineup for the playoffs.
Sweden and Canada already had qualified on Sunday, meaning the top four teams in the world rankings will be vying for gold.
Yet while Canada has breezed through qualifying, winning all nine games to set a women’s Olympic record, Britain has ended up squeezing through the back door.
Its 8-7 loss to Denmark in an extra end bumped Muirhead’s team down to fourth place and into a semifinal against the most dominant rink in the tournament.
“In an ideal world, you’d maybe pick and choose who you play,” said Britain coach Rhona Howie. “But we’ve got to beat them (Canada and Sweden) to get that gold medal.”
Switzerland will play Sweden in the other semi after beating China 10-6 to finish at 5-4 with Britain. Because the Swiss won their meeting in the round-robin, they take third place and a supposedly easier game in the last four.
The only previous Olympic team to go through the qualifying phase with a perfect record is the Canadian men’s rink skipped by Kevin Martin in the Vancouver Games in 2010.
That team won gold — and the same now will be expected of the Canadian women. They haven’t won women’s Olympic gold since 1998.
“In my opinion, this is one of the toughest fields that has ever been assembled for women’s curling,” Canada skip Jennifer Jones said. “To go through undefeated, and to go into the Olympic record books, is pretty awesome.”
The United States (1-8) finished last for the second straight Olympic Games after losing 11-2 to South Korea.
“This team is a better team than our performances this week,” said U.S. curler Ann Swisshelm, who had tears in her eyes as she left the ice. “That’s pretty heart-breaking.”
The form of Muirhead’s team will be a worry to British fans who have few gold-medal hopes left at these Olympics.
Britain is the world champion but isn’t playing like one, losing four games in the round robin and seeing all four players perform below their usual high standards.
Against Denmark, Britain was 7-4 ahead going into the 10th end but conceded three points to send the game into overtime. Britain had the hammer, but lost the initiative toward the end and Muirhead failed with a difficult hit and roll on the final shot.
She’ll have to improve on Wednesday if Britain is to take down Canada.
“I like playing under pressure,” Muirhead said. “These are the kind of stages I like.”