Winter Olympics: McMillan stays positive despite Canada setback

Britain's curling team look forward to Sweden encounter after first match ends in defeat
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The Independent Online

The quest by Hammy McMillan for Olympic glory, four years after his team missed out on selection for the Nagano Games curling event, got off to a muted start here yesterday as Great Britain lost 6-4 to the joint favourites, Canada, in the first of its nine round-robin matches.

Other than bob skeleton rider Alex Coomber, no other Briton appears at these Games with greater weight of expectation upon them than this 38-year-old from Stranraer. A winning start against the nation which has dominated the event in recent years would have been the ideal way to lift British spirits following the anti-climax of the failures by Glynn Pedersen and Lesley McKenna to reach their respective ski jump and snowboarding finals the day before.

But McMillan, whose team won 41 consecutive matches in 1998 before losing the one vital Scottish Championship game that could have taken them to Japan, was phlegmatic after a match in which Britain were always chasing their North American opponents.

"Obviously losing the game is disappointing, but we weren't playing badly," he said. "Canada are one of the top teams, but there are frailties there. They missed a couple of shots as well. So hopefully we can pick up a few more wins and if we play them again we'll think there's a chance next time."

McMillan makes no bones about the fact that what happened to his team in 1998 – when the qualifying place was taken by a team skipped by Squadron Leader Dougie Dryborough – operates as a prime motivating factor here. "It was pretty tough four years ago," he said. "We lost the last game and that was it. A year later, with a different four, I won the world title. But I wanted to be at the Olympic Games, and I hadn't been. It hurt a lot."

Instead, McMillan found himself working for the BBC commentary team as the side led by Squadron Leader Dryborough was shot down before the semi-finals. "I had lacerations on my tongue from trying not to say too much about how the Olympic team was chosen," he said. "But we knew the rules."

Yesterday, the rules governing which team has the advantage of casting the last stone tipped a game in which Britain struggled to hang on once Canada had taken a 3-0 after three of the scheduled 10 ends and reached 6-2 with three to play.

Although Britain's quartet of McMillan, lead Peter Loudon, Ewan MacDonald and Warwick Smith recovered to 6-4, the Canadians sacrificed a 1-0 lead in the penultimate end in order to retain the advantage of having the final shot in the final end. Had they taken the end, rather than drawn it, the advantage would have switched to the losers, thus giving McMillan a chance to shape his final destiny.

Next up today for the British team are world and European champions Sweden, who may feel they have something to prove after their shock 10-5 defeat by the host nation yesterday.

Huw Chalmers, the British team manager, set the result into context. "We looked on it as being a bonus if we could beat either of the two favourites, but in a round robin you are not always expecting to go out and beat every team. Six wins out of nine would put us into the semis. You've got to win the games you think you should win, but you still want to take some of the big names. The main thing we have to show against Canada and Sweden is that we can compete against them. We feel that on our day we can beat any of these teams out here. We are not in awe – we don't give them too much respect."

The hangar-like location of the Ogden Ice Sheet echoed with the noise of shrill celebrations throughout, although most of the racket came from those in Stars and Stripes colours as they saw the home side upset the world and European champions, Sweden.

One solitary Union Jack was on display in front of a group of students taking time out from their studies at the University of Utah. However, it was economy rather than a deep love of curling which governed their choice of Olympic venue. "These tickets were $35 (£25), the cheapest we could find," said Jane Ironmonger, who is on a one-year exchange from the University of Aberystwyth. Her fellow collegiate Nick Coleridge – great, great grandson of the poet, as it happened – nevertheless felt confident enough to brandish a sign bearing the highly technical inscription "Oh! Good length".

The main bulk of British supporters – husbands, wives, children and friends – are due to come out in four days' time on a trip timed to enable them to stay through to the final. That speaks of an optimism which McMillan clearly still possesses. "I don't want a little certificate that says you have been to the Olympics," he says. "I want more than that."