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Brad Jacobs, Ryan Fry, E.J. Harnden and Ryan Harnden allowed themselves a few minutes — and just a few —to revel in securing an Olympic medal in men’s curling for Canada.
The Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., team knew after its 10-6 semifinal win Wednesday over China the glow was finite. Canadians are as demanding of their curlers as they are of their hockey players at the Winter Olympics.
There is a gold medal for the taking Friday. Canada must elbow aside two-time world champion David Murdoch of Britain to get it and will start the game with hammer.
“To get another medal for all of Team Canada is a great feeling, but at the same time, we want to come out and we want to get that gold,” Jacobs said.
Rejuvenated from a two-day break, the Canadians unveiled their various weapons — finesse shots and hits — for their best game of the tournament against China.
“There’s a little bit of brilliance left in us for that final game,” second Harnden said.
Canada is chasing double curling gold in Sochi. Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen of Winnipeg meet Sweden’s Margaretha Sigfridsson in Thursday’s championship game.
The Canadian women downed Britain’s Eve Muirhead 6-4 in their semifinal earlier Wednesday. Canada hasn’t won the women’s curling gold since the late Sandra Schmirler in 1998.
“There’s a lot of pressure on the Canadian teams to come here and perform well,” Jacobs said. “We have to this point.
“I’m really proud of Jen’s team. I’m really proud of our team for making it this far.”
Canadian men have reached every final since curling made its official Olympic return in 1998. It was a demonstration sport in 1988 in Calgary and an official sport back at the 1924 Games.
Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., made Canadian men’s curling history with the first gold in 2006. Edmonton’s Kevin Martin defended the gold four years ago in Vancouver.
Caught up in the spectacle and hype of their first Olympic Games, Jacobs and Co. went 1-2 to start the round robin before a six-win recovery to secure a playoff berth.
Every country had a day off during the preliminary round. Canada’s happened to fall on the final day of the round robin Monday, followed by another rest day Tuesday for tiebreaker games.
They men spent their down time doing little but rotating between their rooms, the village cafeteria and the gym.
“The rest was key for us,” Jacobs said. “We talked to the hockey guys when we were 1-2. We talked to (Canadian coach) Mike Babcock. He said ‘You’re 1-2. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s how you finish. Just go out and execute.’ That’s exactly what we’ve done.”
China is the surprise of men’s curling in Sochi. The team skipped by Liu Rui and coached by four-time Canadian champion Marcel Rocque posted an identical 7-2 record to make the playoffs.
The Canadians concluded the preliminary round with an extra-end win over the Chinese. Canada “junked it up,” as Harnden put it, in the early ends to force Liu’s team into intricate draws and hits.
Canada’s grip on a berth in the final tightened in the seventh end.
A double takeout by Jacobs to lie two prompted a long timeout for China. Liu had his draw weight down in the game, but his attempted runback peeled only China’s stone at the top of the house and left two for Canada. Jacobs drew for three and a 7-4 lead.
China got two back in the eighth when Jacobs missed a pair of attempted double takeouts, but the Canadian skip’s fist was quadruple pumping in the ninth after an open hit for another three.
“They finally showed up,” said Canadian coach and five-time national champion Rick Lang. “That’s the team we expected early in the week and I’m sure they wanted to bring that earlier.
“That’s not an insult. I’m really glad the ‘A’ team showed up at a critical time.”
The third end was also key for Canada. Jacobs was left with a double raise to squeeze a Chinese stone off a piece of the button and score two. The skip made it for a 3-1 lead and Canadians celebrated with what has become their signature overhead broom shake.
“You know what? They don’t call it the Mighty Maple Leaf for nothing,” Rocque said. “They started off a little bit shaky and they came on.
“They’ve been coming on stronger and stronger. They’re a championship team, they’re proven. To go through our trials system undefeated, these guys can play.”
But so can Murdoch. Denied a medal in two previous Olympic appearances, the 35-year-old Scot beat Canada’s Jean Michel-Menard for a world title in 2006 and Martin for it in 2009.
The skip’s white-knuckle draw to score two on the final shot of the other semifinal gave Britain a 6-5 win over reigning world champion Niklas Edin of Sweden.
Murdoch was well aware Jacobs went undefeated through Canada’s trials and beat the likes of Martin, Glenn Howard and Jeff Stoughton.
“You don’t get out of the trials field that they had and going undefeated without being a good team,” he said. “They’re actually starting to play with a lot of confidence as well. I don’t think we really need to think about them so much. We just need to focus on our own play.”