They are fickle, these curling gods. Eve Muirhead was left looking to the heavens and cursing them while David Murdoch collapsed to his knees and praised them for all he was worth. After more than hours of almost unbearable tension, Great Britain’s curling rinks suffered contrasting fortunes in the semi-finals in Sochi yesterday.
Muirhead blamed a hair for decisively kicking her stone off track to give Canada a 6-4 victory, meaning the Scot will play Switzerland for Olympic bronze today. However, luck was on Murdoch’s side when his Swedish semi-final opponent made a late error, which he gleefully seized on to book a place in tomorrow’s final after a 6-5 win.
For a few hours, this sport held the nation’s rapt attention, proving that even a game played in perpetual slow motion can be utterly gripping. People speculated wildly on the importance of the hammer, drew diagrams on napkins of ideal stone placements and pondered the improbability of a triple take out.
Murdoch will now play the Canadian Brad Jacobs – who wrote him off as defensive before the Games – for Olympic gold in a final to savour. It is a deserved reward for a player who has suffered his fair share of Olympic disappointment, missing out on bronze by millimetres in Turin and crashing out in the extra end of a tie-breaker four years ago in Vancouver, where he had arrived as world champion.
“I hope it’s our time,” Murdoch said, praising the performance of his youthful rink of Olympic newcomers, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews and Michael Goodfellow.
“The curling gods have been looking down on me this week and it makes a change. We have to go out there with confidence and no fear; go for it and believe.
“This is a reward for 12 years of dedicating yourself to a sport, to beating your body up, going through injuries, training hard and make sacrifices. After all that time I’ve proved it pays off.
"Having the experience of the near misses in Turin and Vancouver has helped me keep my head and settle my play. This team believes in itself. I can’t believe the confidence we have and now we’re in the Olympic final.
“I want the gold. You get this opportunity once in a lifetime and it’s up to us to seize the day and make some incredible history. I’m delighted getting the medal I’ve worked so long for but we want the gold and we’ll be pushing everything to get that.”
Murdoch admitted he nearly quit the sport after the disappointment of Vancouver. He found himself on the fringes of the team, wondering whether his moment had gone.
You hear a lot of talk about momentum and destiny in sport and the 35-year-old certainly has the momentum after his incredible shot against Norway that secured his semi-final slot and yesterday’s nerveless performance against the ice-cool Swedes, who are the world champions.
“After Vancouver I thought that was it and I’d never get back,” Murdoch admitted.
“You don’t get the chance to go to the Olympics very often. I went off the boil and my heart wasn’t in it because I thought Vancouver was my chance. Then I got a bad shoulder injury and I honestly thought that was me done.
“But credit to my coach, Soren Gran, he changed the course of my life and I moved to Stirling to train full-time and I’ve practised harder than I’ve ever done in my life. He’s pushed me right to edge and we’re getting the benefits now.”
In contrast, Muirhead and her team of Vicki Adams, Anna Sloan and Claire Hamilton, will have to pick themselves up for today’s bronze medal match. A win would make this Great Britain’s most successful Winter Olympics.
Muirhead had a nightmare start to her semi-final after some debris on the ice forced her stone to pick, meaning she surrendered a soft two that gave Jones a flying start.
Canada are unbeaten at these Games and made their advantage count, though the match wasn’t decided until the final stone.
“The curling gods were not with us,” she said. “I am gutted and so are all the girls. I came into this tournament saying I wanted no regrets and we gave everything we could in that game. I’m proud of the girls and we still have a chance of a medal.
“I don’t want to come away without a medal around my neck. We played well as a team out there and gave it everything. We can’t be too harsh on ourselves, we’re a young team and countries know we are here now.”
From James Toney, Sportsbeat, in Sochi
© Sportsbeat 2014