SOCHI, Russia – Maybe the men’s Olympic curling tournament won’t be such a procession for Canada, after all.
After becoming the first team in Canada’s storied curling history to go through Olympic trials unbeaten, Brad Jacobs’ rink was justifiably regarded as the overwhelming gold-medal favorite for the Sochi Games.
It’s not turning out that way.
On a sobering opening day of action at the Ice Cube Curling Center, the Canadians only scraped past unheralded Germany 11-8 and followed that with a surprise 5-4 loss to Switzerland in the evening session.
“We didn’t curl well at all and got what we deserved,” Canada player Ryan Harnden said. “We’re not sharp, not in a rhythm, not making our shots.”
The Canadians’ struggles have given renewed hope to their rivals – not the least of which is Sweden, which leads the standings with a 2-for-2 record.
“I’m a little bit surprised,” Sweden player Fredrik Lindberg said. “But they have never been abroad to play a championship and that’s something to consider. And they are expected to win and obviously it has to be a big pressure on them.
“If they get a tough start, maybe it starts getting to them.”
And it doesn’t get any easier for Canada – its only match today is against Sweden in a repeat of the 2013 world championship final. The Swedes won in Victoria, B.C., in April.
“We can put a lot more pressure on them,” Lindberg said.
Sweden’s two wins have come against two of its fiercest rivals in Europe. A tense 7-5 win over Switzerland – the reigning European champion – was followed by an 8-4 victory against Britain.
The Ice Cube was one of the hottest tickets in Sochi on Monday. Bagpipers led the teams on for each session and there was a regal feel to proceedings, with Prince Hakan of Norway, Princess Anne of Britain and Prince Albert of Monaco watching from the stands.
Joining Sweden in making a good start to round-robin play was Norway, the 2010 silver medalists who have become much more popular for their fashion sense than their curling.
The Norwegians were the talk of the Vancouver Olympics in 2010 for wearing a range of funky, diamond-printed pants during their games. They are continuing the trend here, and emerged for their first game – against the United States in the evening – with another snazzy pattern on their pants.
This time, they donned the Ice Blocks range – a mixture of red, white, blue and gray squares and rectangles.
“We have so many things going on in the closet right now,” Norway curler Haavard Vad Petersson said. “We just have to try to get through them all.”
Curling’s kings of cool proved too strong for the U.S., taking a 5-1 lead after three ends and winding up a 7-4 winner to go 1-for-1.
Britain, China and Denmark all finished the day with one win to their name. Russia is 0 for 2 after losing to Britain 7-4 and Denmark 11-10 after an extra end, disappointing the horn-blowing, thunderstick-clapping home fans who created a lively atmosphere throughout the day.
So much so that some curlers found it tough playing through the din and struggled to get their commands heard.
The Canadians didn’t use that as an excuse – they had plenty of their own problems to worry about.