Canada has an historic curling trifecta in Sochi.
Jim Armstrong’s rink showed its class and experience at the Ice Cube Curling Center on Saturday in defeating Russia 8-3 to win the gold medal at the Paralympic Winter Games.
The victory comes on the heels of Canada’s podium-topping performances in both men’s and women’s curling at last month’s Olympics and marks the first time a country has won all three tournaments in the same year.
Russia led 2-0 after the first end, but after that it was all Canada as the country won it’s third straight Paralympic gold medal.
“Once we erased that two-point lead and got a point or two up and had them coming to us, it’s a much more difficult game,” said Armstrong, who also skipped Canada to gold four years ago in Vancouver. “Today we were on the right side of the inch and they weren’t.”
After a week of warm temperatures in the city on the shores of the Black Sea made for unpredictable ice conditions, Armstrong said Saturday’s playing surface made his team’s job a lot more straightforward.
“The ice held well even with the huge crowd. It was just a little bit easier technically, mechanically to play a little better and my guys came to play,” he said. “Russia played very well in the early going. I didn’t think they had any idea how to miss.”
Despite being aware that Canada could complete a Sochi curling sweep, Armstrong said it hadn’t crossed his mind throughout the week.
“This is unique. Maybe it’s a bigger situation than I would credit it,” said the 63-year-old from Cambridge, Ont. “We’re unique and it’s a different event, but it’s great. It’s great for Canada and great for us.”
Canada has dominated wheelchair curling since the sport made its Paralympic debut eight years ago, winning gold at both the 2006 and 2010 Games, to go along with triumphs in the 2009, 2011 and 2013 world championships.
“I feel honoured to have been part of some amazing teams. I’ve had the best teammates over the years,” said Canada’s Sonja Gaudet, who won her third gold medal. “The team right now is just an incredible combination of athletes that get along so well.”
Up 5-2 in the sixth end, Canada capitalized on one of a number of miscues by Russia to grab a commanding lead.
Russian skip Andrey Smirnov missed an attempted takeout with the hammer, allowing Canada to steal three and hand the two-time defending gold medallists an 8-2 lead.
Russia got one back in the seventh end to make it 8-3, but decided to shake hands midway through the eighth to seal a Canadian victory that was really never in doubt.
“As a team, the numbers showed where we were. I had that miss in the first and they converted,” said Armstrong, whose team curled at 80 per cent compared to Russia’s 57 per cent. “The one thing that has been our mantra the last two seasons is being patient and that really was the difference.
“You just hang in and hang in and wait and wait and wait. That’s what we did and we were rewarded for it.”
Fans of both countries saluted the players with raucous applause at the end of the match as the Canadians hugged and congratulated each other.
“It was an emotional high,” said Canada’s Dennis Thiessen, who won his first Paralympic gold medal. “In the seventh end we kind of knew we had it as long as we play smart and finish it off. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”
Wheelchair curling’s most decorated athlete, Gaudet said she continues to play the sport to show that people with disabilities can excel.
“The message that goes along with that gold medal, I don’t think it could ever get old,” she said. “Sending that message around the world that giving up is not an option and battling through your challenges and facing obstacles head on — that’s what these gold medals represent to me. It’s about letting people know that anything is possible.”
Meanwhile, Britain defeated China 7-3 to win the bronze.
The Canadian rink of Armstrong, Gaudet, Thiessen, Ina Forrest and alternate Mark Ideson found themselves down early after Russia scored two in the first end in front of a boisterous and partisan gathering.
Canada, which downed China 5-4 in a tight semifinal earlier in day, got one back in the second before stealing another in the third to knot the score 2-2.
The Russians, who thumped Britain 13-4 in seven ends in the other semifinal, fell behind 4-2 in the fourth when Smirnov couldn’t clear the house, allowing Canada to score two more.
An error by Armstrong in the fifth end opened the door for the Russians, but Smirnov couldn’t capitalize as Canada stole another point to take a 5-2 advantage that would only get larger.
“I learned that it’s a team effort. Everyone’s got each other’s back,” said Ideson, who also picked up his second Paralympic gold medal. “All those sacrifices away from family, they all happen for a reason.”