If curling and golf are truly kindred spirits, then the Ice Cube Center in Olympic Park must be curling’s equivalent to the 16th hole at the Phoenix Open – where the raucous fans are the most-troublesome hazard.
Canada’s Jennifer Jones rink out of Winnipeg had not only to deal with Wang Bingyu's rink from China, but had to do so while horn-blowing, flag-waving spectators cheered every rock thrown by Russian skip Anna Sidorova three sheets over.
And cheered just as loudly – bad form in curling as in golf – every miss by the Danish team facing the glamorous Russian rink.
In the fifth end, Jones threw a spectacular double takeout and then drew to count three and go up 6-1 on China. The Chinese conceded after seven ends when the Canadians were well ahead 9-2.
Jones said the wild cheering and jeering never bothered her or her teammates. They had watched the Canadian men curl at the Ice Cube Curling Center earlier in the day and knew it would be loud. The women even created hand signals to help them at those times when their sweeping calls might not be heard above the crowd.
“I think it’s great,” said Dawn McEwen, who throws first on the Jones team.
“It’s so fun,” said a delighted Jones. “You can’t ask for anything better.”
Nor could the crowd, wild and ecstatic as 23-year-old Sidorova – an Internet sensation for her curling-in-lingerie cheesecake photos – curled brilliantly in the final ends as Russia defeated the determined Danes 7-4.
Jones said her rink is well used to playing, and defeating, hometown favourites in numerous Canadian tournaments. And having to play the Russians where Canadian errors would be loudly acknowledged “wouldn’t rattle us at all.”
Instead it was the Chinese who appeared rattled by the pinpoint shotmaking of the Canadians and the effective strategies of Jones, the Canadian skip. They appeared relieved to shake hands and get off the ice.
“They’ll bounce back,” Jones predicted.
Earlier, Brad Jacobs had a tougher time, with his rink from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., beating Germany 11-8 before losing 5-4 to Switzerland.
Down 4-2 after three ends, Jacob’s scored three in the fourth and stole two in the fifth thanks to a perfect out-turn guard stone thrown by Jacobs that the German team skipped by John Jahr could not solve.
“I am the last player,” said Felix Schulze, the fourth on the German team, “so I am always under pressure with every stone. At this level you never have the chance to relax. You have to play until the last stone.
“When you lose concentration for the first time, the ice will not forgive you.”
The Canadian men were forgiven for their somewhat inconsistent play and went on to an 11-8 victory. The match was much closer than had been expected, though Jacobs was adamant that the Canadians had not taken the Germans lightly.
“It was not tougher than expected,” he said. “The Germans played very well.
“We struggled, especially with a couple of my shots that I missed.”
“We are in a good mood,” said German skip Jahr. “When you start at the Olympic Games, everybody is on the same level. Perhaps they underestimated us. We do not know each other.”
Jacobs said it was not nerves that caused a weak opening effort. Rather it was getting used to the rocks and ice in the Ice Cube Curling Center, as well as the raucous noise coming from spectators watching four separate matches.
“It’s very different from any other event we’ve played in,” said Jacobs.
“The ice was a little different from the one we played on during practice,” added second E.J. Harnden. “It is a little patchier and doesn’t have as much curl. We were struggling with the broom placement.”
Harnden called it “a character game,” one that tested the Canadian favourites.
“But a win is a win,” he said. “We knew it would be a tough game. But every game here will be close.
“Every country, even if they don’t win a medal, wants to beat Canada.”