Sunday, April 20, 2014
By Steve Douglas
The Associated Press
SOCHI, Russia — Sweden’s curlers gave each other long, warm hugs on the edge of the ice and waved into a TV camera after securing their place in the Olympic semifinals.
Then they looked up to the stand to thank their small band of traveling fans.
But if the Swedes were hoping to see their king and queen, they were out of luck.
King Carl XVI Gustaf and his wife, Queen Silvia, were at the Ice Cube Curling Center on Sunday morning to watch the men’s team reach the playoffs.
The royals had long gone – up to the mountains to see Sweden win the men’s cross-country skiing relay – by the time Maria Prytz bumped a stone into the button for two points at the final end and a 5-4 win over Russia.
It guaranteed the team a spot in the playoffs and a shot at Sweden’s third straight gold medal in women’s curling.
“We just missed them,” Prytz said of the royal visitors. “I hope they stay (for the medal round). It’s really good to have them here, cheering for all the Swedes.”
Sweden relied on Switzerland slipping up against Japan, 9-7 in an extra end, to be assured of advancing. The Swiss dropped to a 4-4 win-loss record and are now in danger of missing the semifinals.
They will have to beat China in their last game to stand a chance of qualifying, although the best they realistically can hope for is a tiebreaker. The Chinese and Britain are the other teams vying for the top four.
Canada, which qualified for the semis on Saturday, guaranteed the top seed in the playoffs by beating the United States 7-6 in an extra end for an eighth straight win. If the Canadians beat South Korea on Monday, they will become the first women’s team to go through an Olympic round-robin campaign undefeated.
“We don’t really think about the record,” Canada curler Kaitlyn Lawes said. “We are in the playoffs – the next goal now is to win that semifinal.”
Denmark beat South Korea 7-4 in the afternoon session’s other game.
Prytz’s superbly judged last shot ended a strategic, defensive game and left a previously upbeat home crowd stunned. The result virtually eliminated the Russians (3-5) – a young team skipped by 23-year-old Anna Sidorova, one of the most popular athletes in the country.
The host nation’s men’s team already has failed to reach the semifinals.
“Age helps, sure, when you have experience,” Russia Coach Thomas Lips said, “but I don’t think the issue here is that this is a young team.”
Canada decided to stick with the same lineup – leaving Kirsten Wall as alternate again – and keep the momentum going.
Skip Jennifer Jones was down on her accuracy against the U.S. team and gave up a steal in the 10th to take the game to overtime. Canada had the hammer, though, and Jones made a routine draw for victory.
“We are finding a way to be in control of the game and have our fate in our own hands,” Jones said. “That’s a great feeling to have.”
The American women are 1-7 and on track to finish in last place for the second straight Olympics.
“We’re not giving up,” U.S. player Debbie McCormick (Rio, Wis.) said. “We finally got our mojo back, but unfortunately it was just a little too late.”