The world-class quality of curling at the Winter Games made for enthralling final games.
The Australian men’s team took gold in a high-pressure game against China, winning 10-6; and Japan beat women’s world champions China to take gold in a decisive victory with a score of 8-5.
The game was close all the way, with some great shots and a few devastating mistakes.
Australia made two points on the first end, China only one on the second and then Australia stole one on the third to take the game into the fourth end, tied 2-2.
Going into the sixth end it was tied again 3-3 and then Australia scored a three but on the seventh Australia, in an attempt at a heavy takeout, clipped a guard and left the way open for China to score three, to tie the score again 6-6.
China were forced to accept one in the eighth end and then Australia stole the finish with one in the ninth and two in 10th ends.
To win the final end Australia remained focused on removing guards and a miss by China put an end to the game.
China are an Olympic-level team that has played successfully at major international tournaments, but it was the Australian team’s veteran savvy that won the day. Australian skip Hugh Millikin, 53, said age had its advantages.
“It helps to have been in difficult situations before, especially when you give up a couple of points like we gave up the three in the seventh.
“A lot of times that really deflates you and then you start making dumb mistakes”, Millikin said.
“We just kept to it and played the strategy out, so experience makes a big difference in curling.”
In the men’s battle for bronze, Japan asserted dominance over Korea scoring a four in the third end and stealing a one in the eighth, resulting in a final score of 10-7 to Japan. China took the silver.
In the women’s final, China put the first points on the board and were leading 3-1 going into the fourth end, but Japan had the last stone advantage and scored an impressive three, a turning point that put them ahead for the first time. China were never able to catch up, going into the final 10th end 8-5.
It came down to the wire with China having to score three to tie and force an extra end.
China were in with a chance with two stones inside the rings, but Japan’s skip executed a difficult in-turn takeout and killed China’s stone, running them out of rocks, making China’s last stone advantage attempt pointless, and forcing the world champions to concede the game to Japan.
It was always going to be a huge battle between these two world-class teams: Japan, national champion and 2010 Olympic qualifier; and China, women’s world champions. Japanese skip Moe Meguro had a particularly strong game and said they were happy to beat China.
“We were relaxed because we were challengers against world champions, we couldn’t be nervous,” she said. “We didn’t think about winning until the end of the game to avoid the pressure.”
China national coach Dan Rafael said Japan always gave them a good game.
“Today we just didn’t come to the play. I know them better than that,” he said of China’s women curlers.
Korea pushed New Zealand out for the women’s bronze, with a score of 12-7 to Korea.
Scores were fairly even in the first half of the game and tied 4-4 going into the fifth end. Korea stole a three and New Zealand were never able to get on top again, despite New Zealand putting an impressive four points on the board in the eighth end. China took silver.
Dan Rafael said China’s men’s team was a new lineup and it was the first time skip Liu Rui had been at the helm for a full tournament and that was a factor in its loss.
The Winter Games curling event was a great event, ideal for giving players exposure a tournament and perfect timing for their training schedule, Rafael said.
Meanwhile, former Invercargill native Nat Anglem dominated the Winter Triathlon on Saturday morning, putting a kilometre between himself and his nearest competitor.
The winter triathlon was a demonstration sport at the Winter Games and consists of a 7km run followed by a 12km mountainbike ride and 10km cross-country ski, all on hard-packed snow.
Behind Anglem in the men’s race were Ben Koons, of Wanaka, and Andrew Pohl, of Dunedin, third.
In the women’s race first-timer Laetitia Roux, of France, decided to rent some gear and give it a go. She took first place and is now considering entering the World Winter Triathlon Championships. Andrea Fancy, of Wellington, was second and Christchurch’s Yvonne Pfluger was third.
Anglem said he was surprised he was so far ahead of the rest of the field but had felt comfortable and held on for an easy win.
It was the country’s top cross- country skiers who took the top places in near-perfect conditions at Snow Farm.
Anglem is a cross-country skiing specialist and has the 2010 Winter Olympics in his sights.
“I had a great time out there today. It’s a fantastic course and an all-round perfect day for it. It’s such a fun event. But it is heavily tipped in skiers’ favour,” he said.
Triathlon New Zealand chief executive Dave Beech was at Snow Farm to watch the winter version of his sport for the first time and said he thought it was an exciting and dynamic sport.
“I think this is a great sport. It really does look tough. Not often do you see top competitors as these cramping up, and there was more than one out there looking for attention. If we can get sufficient interest in the sport then I think it can go places,” Beech said.