Friday, February 07, 2014

Sochi's on my Mind!

It’s not far away now!  There are ten GBR curlers’ hearts beating just that little bit faster as Monday approaches.  Their support teams will be gathered around them – holding hands; supporting; encouraging.  The coaches will be focusing their charges on the struggles ahead.  The clock keeps ticking down.

For some, this is not a new experience.  Both skips have been here and done that in Olympics past – in David Murdoch’s case, not once, but twice.  He has come agonisingly close – who will ever forget Uusilpaavalniemi’s draw to the corner of the one foot in the Pinerolo semi-final eight years ago to snatch victory from the GBR team?  They went on to lose to the Americans in the 3 v 4 play-off but, interestingly, went on that year to win the World Championship – a chance denied them this time around.

Eve, as a young and raw 19 year-old went to Vancouver as skip of a strong GBR ladies team – Jacqui Lockhart at third, Kelly Wood at second and Lorna Vevers at lead, with fellow-golfer Annie Laird as alternate.  They lost more than they won, but many of the losses were tight, tight affairs and she will have learned from the experience.

This time around, I like the look of both teams.  I think that both have great chances of podium finishes – with perhaps the women looking the stronger of the two in their group.  That said, there are a goodly number of strong ladies teams.  GBR start with a game against their nemeses, the Swedish ladies; tough opener, this one.  You look at this Swedish team and think that they are there for the taking; but they are dogged and the sum is very definitely stronger than the parts. 

On Tuesday, they play the USA in a game I expect them to win.  Then on Wednesday, they have a big game against Jennifer Jones from Canada.  Jones has made a habit of winning Canadian championships for fun but, strange to report, this is her first go at the Olympics.  This would be a great game for Eve and company to win!  Jones has one only World Gold to her name – and that was in front of a home crowd in Vernon.  Get the win in early.  Let the Canadians sweat a bit!

Mind you, two of the first three games are tough, tough affairs – and, by the way, I don’t expect the USA to be pushovers either!   

China, Japan, Korea will be doughty opponents.  In round seven there awaits the 2012 World Champions, the Swiss skipped by Mirjam Ott.  The GBR team has two round-robin games after their match against Ott, one against the stuffy Russians in front of a home crowd, and finally they play Denmark.

Look, a game of curling can go either way and, more often than not, will hinge on one or two great stones or marginal misses.  Our team is good though – really good.  Yes, they will have a target on their backs as the current World Champions, but there is a presence about them on the ice and the other teams know just how good they each are.  With David Hay as their coach, a man for whom they all have the utmost respect, I expect them to reach the semi-finals and I hope that they get the wee rubs that Rhona Martin got all those years ago and David Murdoch didn’t get in Pinerolo.  I think that the four semi-final places go to Canada, Sweden, Switzerland and GBR.  GBR for Gold!  There you go; I’ve said it!

Now to the men.  They have the honour of opening their campaign against the Russians.  I like the fact that they get the Russians early, before the crowd has settled down.  I think that their second game is also a good one for them against a strangely out-of-sorts but current World Champion, Niklas Edin.  Germany, Switzerland, USA and Denmark follow and I am really hoping that, by this time, they are on a 6-0 or 5-1 record, for the next two games are the tough ones, and they come one after the other.  Canada, skipped by Brad Jacobs with a really strong third in Ryan Fry, look the class of the field to me; Norway, whom GBR face in the next game, are perennial podium finishers.  The GBR men finish their round-robin with a game against China.  I hope that they have done well enough for it not to matter!

I think that the four semi-finalists in this field are Canada, Norway, GBR and Sweden.  I say that because the GBR team has a pretty strong record in recent World and European Championships – two Silver medals and two Bronzes.  There was a time when David Murdoch had the Indian sign over Norway’s Ulsrud, but that time has perhaps passed.  If I were a man who prayed, I think I would want Sweden in the semi-final – and then may the best team win the final!  Can the men make it a golden double for GBR in the curling?  We can dream, but I think a more realistic colour is either Silver or Bronze – depending on whom they face in the semi-final.  I can’t see past Canada for the Gold – but I want the lads to prove me wrong and I promise that my face will be covered in poached egg (the healthier option, after all!), when they come back to Blighty with a Gold medal around their necks.

Best of luck to them all.  They all deserve our 100% support.  The games are all on the BBC red button service and you might find this link useful.

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