Canada will play for curling gold on home ice against Swedish women

By Janie Mccauley, AP
Thursday, February 25, 2010

Canada curlers will play for gold at home

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Cheryl Bernard pulled her Canadian curling teammates into a group hug. They waved and blew kisses to an adoring crowd that has given these women quite a home-ice advantage at the Olympics.

Bernard’s foursome is right where it hoped to be — playing for gold on Canadian soil.

“It’s what we came here to do,” Canada third Susan O’Connor said. “We accomplished a big goal already, and now we get to go play a gold-medal game in front of that fantastic crowd. What could be better than that?”

The Canadians moved into Friday’s final against defending gold medalist Sweden with a 6-5 victory over Switzerland on Thursday that was in doubt until the very end.

Needing two points to tie, the Swiss had one stone near the center of the scoring area with a Canadian rock nearby. Switzerland skip Mirjam Ott knocked the Canadian stone out with the last shot, but her own stone slid way too far away for her team to score the two points it needed.

“Amazing, who’d have thunk?” Bernard said of her team, which is based in Calgary but was largely unknown outside of Canada until recently. “It wasn’t fancy but it was good for nerves, because there were some.”

Anette Norberg and Sweden had an easier time advancing.

Norberg came with her signature stern game face and steady hand. The 43-year-old and her teammates easily handled reigning world champion China 9-4 on Thursday in a shortened nine-end semifinal victory.

The Swedes were thrilled to be playing the top-seeded Canadians on their home ice.

“The audience here is great. Of course we will have them against us, but we will enjoy the moment,” Sweden third Eva Lund said. “As an athlete, that’s a dream come true to be here in the final again, in Canada, in Vancouver. I can’t explain my feelings now. Everything is coming up now.”

Norberg’s foursome, whose starting lineup from Turin was kept intact, scored a big three-spot in the fifth. Norberg converted a double takeout in the eighth, knocking away two Chinese stones — then scored three points moments later for a 9-3 advantage.

Still nowhere near cracking a smile, Norberg raised her right finger, fully aware she had nailed it. It was only afterward that she could exhale and show some emotion.

“Very, very happy,” she said, laughing.

The Swedes wasted no time putting pressure on inexperienced China, scoring points in each of the first three ends for a 3-0 lead.

The Swedish foursome was fired up from the start in a rematch of the 2009 worlds, won by the Chinese team, which featured a former hockey player and three ex-speedskaters.

“This makes up for everything, because nothing can compare to the Olympics,” Norberg said. “We were in control of the game all through. We felt it. They felt it.”

China is led by big-game “Betty,” as skip Wang Bingyu is known. But she was anything but clutch in this one, shooting with just 60 percent accuracy to Norberg’s 75 percent.

China’s Olympic debut has been rocky, but the team can still capture bronze Friday.

“I think today we played not well,” Wang said. “Maybe we were thinking we were going to the final. This is a really tough game.”

The team’s Canadian-bred coach, Dan Rafael, called out his players for having a lack of passion after a shortened 7-4 loss in nine ends to Russia on Monday.

He said he planned to step down after his contract expires June 30 because he disagrees with the structure of the country’s curling program. Wang and some of her teammates haven’t ruled out retiring after the Olympics, further infuriating their coach.

Bernard has been fighting a nasty cold, but the Canadian captain slept 9½ hours and felt fresh for Thursday’s game. She said that during the match she thought about how tough it would be if her team didn’t advance.

“It’s going to be fun,” she said. “We have one more job to do. We’ve been practicing for 10 or 11 ends all week, and that’s probably what we’ll get.”

For Switzerland’s Ott, this is a great disappointment. She brought home silver from the last two Olympics, losing 7-6 to Norberg and Sweden in 2006. Ott had hoped for another shot at gold but couldn’t convert on multiple chances to score points.

“It was for sure not my best game,” she said. “If I had my best game we would have beat them.”

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