Sochi recap: Curling, day 1

The U.S. teams had a rough start and the Russian fans partied and squealed as if Justin Bieber was throwing the rocks as curling finally got underway in the 2014 Olympics.

Date: 10-Feb

Sport: Curling

Event: Day 1 of group play, men’s (two sessions) and women’s (one)

How U.S. fared: The men had a bye in the morning session, then fell in a deep hole early against Norway. John Shuster was visibly and audibly annoyed with his last shot in the third end (out of 10), which gave Norway an opening to shoot for three and a 5-1 lead. Shuster calmly drew for two in the fourth to cut it to 5-3 and held Norway to one in the sixth, but a missed double takeout attempt gave Norway a steal* of one and a 7-3 lead. Shuster wound up needing to steal three in the 10th, and that wasn’t happening. 7-4 final.

The women faced Switzerland (coincidentally, at the same time the U.S. women’s hockey team faced Switzerland). Erika Brown’s rink had lost four times to Mirjam Ott’s Swiss, but Ott was cold early, letting the USA lead 2-0 through three ends without having the hammer. A Brown blunder, both in tactics and execution, let Ott take three in the fourth. That gave Brown the hammer for the first time, and she missed twice, giving Switzerland a steal of two and a 5-2 lead. Ott took care of business the rest of the way for a 7-4 win.

What happened: Minor surprise in the morning session (men), with China taking down Denmark 7-4. Two favorites rolled — Britain got four in the sixth end and beat Russia 7-4, Sweden clinically beat Switzerland 7-5.

Canada, by far the biggest curling country, had a matchup that turned surprisingly dramatic at the end. Brad Jacobs’ rink had a comfortable 9-5 lead over Germany after seven, and Felix Schulze had to make a tough shot to claw one back instead of giving up three or four in the eighth. But Jacobs gave up a steal of two in the ninth to cut it to 9-8. Canada nailed things down in the last end to win 11-8.

In the afternoon (women), Canada made quick work of China, winning 9-2. The marquee matchup was Sweden and Britain, where the Swedes eked out a 6-4 win.

Russia, cheered by boisterous fans (perhaps disrupting the USA’s Erika Brown at times), took a 4-1 lead over Denmark but let the Danes steal a couple to tie it at 4-4. Young Russian skip Anna Sidorova had a shot in the ninth that could have gone for four but wound up with two. Russia nearly ran out of time in the 10th end but limited Denmark’s chances, actually stealing one for a 7-4 win.

The evening session, the second of the day for the men, had three fascinating games:

– Sweden beat Britain 8-4 in a matchup of medal contenders, scoring four in the eighth end to break open a close game.

– Canada found itself in a cagey matchup with Switzerland. After four blank ends, the Swiss scored three in the fifth. Canada answered with two, and they traded singles until the 10th, where Canada had the hammer and a 5-3 deficit. Canada’s Brad Jacobs was left with a takeout in which his rock had to stay in the house to score two and force an extra end. He made the takeout, but the rock … just … trickled out. Switzerland with a 5-4 upset. Please console your neighbors to the north.

– Russia’s men kept the cheers going by stealing three in the second end to go up 5-0 on Denmark. The Danes fought back to tie it 7-7 after seven ends. Russia took two in the eighth but whiffed on a big takeout attempt in the ninth, leaving two Danish rocks in scoring position. Danish skip Rasmus Stjerne Hansen made an easy draw for three to take a 10-9 lead into the 10th, by which time all the other games had ended.

And that game kept going, as Alexey Stukalskiy made a pressure-packed takeout through traffic in the 10th to force an extra end. But Denmark frustrated Russia’s efforts to take charge of the house, and when Stukalskiy’s last draw fell short, Russia conceded Denmark’s final shot.

Still a long way to go — they’ll play a full round-robin of 10 teams each before going to a four-team playoff. Maybe Russia’s fans will gain a bit more curling knowledge to go with their enthusiasm by the time we’re done.

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