After six straight wins, Brad Jacobs’s rink is on a roll leading into Wednesday’s Olympic curling semifinal against China.
But the Canadian skip acknowledges it has been a difficult journey.
“There’s a little struggle, I think, coming here,” Jacobs said Monday after a short practice session at the Ice Cube Curling Center. “As much as we like to think that it didn’t have an effect on us, I think it did — just the enormity of the event.
“You check social media, you check any type of other media and people, all of your supporters even, saying ‘Bring home the gold.’ You hear the word gold, gold, gold all the time. It makes you get ahead of yourself a little bit and until you come and you lose a few games, then you realize ‘Okay, we need to just get back to the basics and stay in the present and make one shot at a time here.“’
Canada is the two-time defending men’s Olympic curling champion. Edmonton’s Kevin Martin won gold in 2010 in Vancouver, while Brad Gushue of St. John’s, Nfld., was victorious at the 2006 Turin Games.
The men’s and women’s hockey teams are probably the only other Canadians under the same pressure to win it all here as the curlers. The men’s hockey team has taken in some of the curling, with goalie Roberto Luongo famously wearing a curling rock hat, while the curlers have seen two hockey games and some figure skating.
Adding to the Canadian expectations is the fact that Jacobs’s rink from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., went through the Olympic trials undefeated.
But there was a rocky opening in Russia with a win over Germany by back-to-back losses to Sweden and Switzerland. The Canadians regrouped and reeled off six straight wins to finish with a 7-2 record.
China (7-2) defeated Britain 6-5 earlier Monday to consign the British to a tiebreaker with Norway on Tuesday to determine who faces Sweden (8-1) in the other semifinal Wednesday. Norway, which lost to 5-3 to Denmark, and Britain both finished the round-robin at 5-4.
Canada beat China 9-8 in an extra end Sunday.
“It’s going to be a tough battle,” said Canadian second E.J. Harnden. “Probably very similar to the game we had against them last night. And we’ll have to be a little bit sharper. We gave them a few breaks early on and then they came and gave those back to us later in the game.”
Jacobs, 28, says despite his rink’s successful run here, wins have been hard to come by.
“All these countries have been playing great,” he said. “Every game’s been a tough, tough battle. It’s hard for me to remember the last time curling felt so difficult. It’s hard for me to put my finger on why.
“We’re playing well (but) there’s room for improvement. We’re not playing as well as we did at the Olympic trials but we’re close. Every game has been a grind for us. But that’s fine. We’re kind of known for being the team that goes out and grinds wins out. So it’s back to that for us. Any way that we have to get those wins, we’ll take it.”
A Sweden-Canada final matchup would be a repeat of last year’s world championship final won by Swedish skip Niklas Edin.
That represented Jacobs’ rink lone previous international competition, other than the Continental Cup.
“A lot of these other countries have been doing this for a long time and have been to many international competitions,” he said. “So I really think that in this case, we are an underdog. You look at teams like Sweden, Norway, Scotland, China, they’ve been to the worlds multiple times, multiple Olympics. They know what to expect more than we do in this situation.
“So I think even though we might be looked as an favourite, in our opinion we’re an underdog.”
The early days at the Olympics can be filled with distractions, said Harnden.
“Honestly I think it was just not having the experience of being at an Olympic Games before,” he said. “You have that, you have a lot of focus on the gold rather than just each game and each performance and each rock.
“And then also have all the other things that are going on. I know when we first got here, a lot of us were making a point to meet the other Canadian athletes and invest the interest in their results as well. And then we go 1-2 and we had kind of a little bit of a sit-down and said ‘You know what, we need to get back to what’s made us successful, which is focusing on our own performance and treating this like any other event.“’
Jacobs also sees the international curling bar being raised here.
“This is the best I’ve seen all these other countries play ... the play is getting better and better each year and all these countries build up to now.”