What a game for Olympic bronze. Sweden and China were nearly perfect through five ends, then punished each other’s rare mistakes to set up a dramatic finish. Sweden was forced to give up the hammer to force an extra end, but Niklas Edin and company expertly set up a steal to take the bronze against a Chinese team that is making a lot of noise in curling just in time — the World Championships next month are in Beijing.
Event: Men’s bronze medal game, Sweden-China
What happened: A whole lot of quality curling.
Sweden’s Niklas Edin hit a precisely angled double takeout to hold China to one in the third, tying the game at 1. Then the teams set up a complex fourth end with several stones in a jagged line from the front of the house to the back, with China’s Liu Rui tossing precise draws and Sweden’s Sebastian Kraupp and Edin converting takeouts with very little of the rock available to hit. Edin drew to take a 2-1 lead.
In the fifth end, four rocks of alternate color were staggered in the house. Edin put up a guard. Then Liu somehow removed the three Swedish rocks from play while leaving two of his own. Edin came right back and played a double takeout to knock out China’s rocks and clear the house. Liu played through the house to blank the end.
At the halfway point, the skips’ percentages were off the charts — Liu at 97%, Edin at 100%. Sweden was shooting 90%, China 89%.
Edin finally erred in the sixth end. Needing to bump or draw ahead of a Chinese rock in scoring position at the back corner of the house, he missed and sent his rock through the rings. China put another another in scoring position with no potential for a double takeout. Edin took that one out, and China put it right back to score two for a 3-2 lead.
Sweden couldn’t keep rocks in the house in the seventh, and Edin hit a simple takeout to tie the game 3-3.
The eighth saw China wrestling with a typical curling dilemma. Swedish vice-skip Sebastian Kraupp hit a double takeout to clear the house, and the teams traded draws and takeouts after that. But before using the hammer, Liu called timeout to discuss options with coach Marcel Rocque. The Canadian said either option — blanking the end to keep the hammer or leaving one in the house to go up 4-3 — was fine. Pressed by his team, Rocque said he would opt to blank it. But he insisted it was their choice. Satisfied, Liu blanked the end.
That was a curious conversation for a team that may be representing a young curling country in China but has an experienced skip in Liu. Then Liu made an elementary mistake in the ninth end, failing to release his rock before crossing the line. The red light on the stone that detects such things went off, and China was forced to steer it out of play.
Sweden used its own timeout, with coach Eva Lund stepping down to make a few emphatic points. They opted to take out the lone Chinese rock within the eight-foot, leaving Sweden with three in scoring position. A triple takeout was unimaginable, and Liu was forced to play his last one to the button to tie it 4-4 and give Sweden the hammer for the 10th end.
That’s a big advantage, but Kraupp erred with his deliveries, leaving too many rocks in play in the four-foot. Liu hit a takeout to leave three Chinese rocks on the button. He was scored a “4” on the play, keeping his percentage up at 93% despite the dreadful error in the ninth, but NBC’s commentary team was less impressed. They saw an opportunity for Edin to get one in play. After bumping a couple of the rocks, Edin’s shot nestled on the edge of the button, probably in scoring position but close enough that no one could be sure.
Liu’s last shot nudged another Chinese rock just a bit, also to the edge of the button. Sweden’s rock still looked closer. But there was no good shot for Sweden to take two and the win. With so much traffic near the button, Edin risked losing if he so much as tapped one of the Chinese rocks. He opted to throw it through the side of the house to preserve his single — if the measurement confirmed that his rock was closer. It did. Tied 4-4 after 10, we were off to an extra end, and China had the hammer in a game in which neither side had managed a steal.
Incredibly, China had another hog-line violation, this time by vice-skip Xu XiaoMing on the 10th rock. Sweden called timeout to consider the situation — China had one in scoring position in the back of the four-foot, Sweden had one in the front of the four-foot, and Sweden had two guards. They opted to have Kraupp freeze his shot in front of China’s scoring rock, and the shot wasn’t bad — in scoring position on the button but just a couple of inches shy of China’s rock. Xu tried to take out both Swedish rocks, but he left one sitting slightly off-center and ahead of the tee line.
Edin put up another guard. Liu tried to bump the Swedish rock off the button, but it just went even closer to the center. Edin slammed out the one Chinese rock in the house, leaving Liu a difficult takeout — he would have to curl around some well-placed guards with enough momentum to get the Swedish rock out of there.
That shot just brushed Sweden’s rock, and Edin had a 6-4 win for the bronze.