British curlers miss out on medal chance

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The Independent Online

David Murdoch suffered more acute Olympic disappointment as Great Britain's men's curling team failed to live up to their reputation as world champions and slid out of the competition before the medal stage.

Murdoch's men were beaten 7-6 by Sweden in the extra end of their play-off, with the prize at stake a semi-final match against Canada on Thursday and at the very least a play-off for the bronze medal.

It is the second Olympic nightmare for Murdoch, who was in a similar position as the pre-Games favourite when he headed to Turin four years ago, only to fall short and lose the third-placed play-off to the United States.

Murdoch and team-mates Ewan Macdonald, Euan Byers and Peter Smith played an awful first five ends against the Swedes and although they clawed their way back level, their opponents kept their nerve to win the sudden-death decider.

Murdoch said: "It's heartbreaking - it's the worst result possible as far as the team is concerned.

"We just put ourselves in a position where every game mattered so much at the end of the week. We had our backs to the wall and we just didn't finish off matches the way we're used to.

"We did everything we possibly could for the last two years. We trained six days a week and practised as much as we possibly could and came into this week as world champions. But sometimes weeks just don't go for you."

Great Britain had headed to Vancouver as legitimate gold medal favourites after beating Canada in four consecutive games en route to the world title in Moncton last year - their second world title in three years.

But with a semi-final place the very least they expected, Murdoch's men started sluggishly with an opening game defeat to the Swedes, and Tuesday's defeat to Norway denied them an automatic last-four berth.

Britain started badly when Byers' missed take-out allowed the Swedes to play out the remainder of the end for a two, and although Murdoch hit straight back to level, his missed take-out in the third gave Sweden the advantage back.

A nightmare fourth end, in which Ewan Macdonald's attempted draw deflected off one of his own guards, then Murdoch missed his take-out shot, nudged Sweden a point further ahead against the hammer.

With their chances seemingly fading, Murdoch's men stole points in three consecutive ends against the hammer to even the score at 5-5 at the end of the seventh, although the Swedes still retained the final stone.

An inch-perfect series of guards throughout the eighth had their desired effect of forcing the Swedes to take a one, giving them a 6-5 lead but crucially giving Murdoch back the advantage of the hammer.

Choosing to blank the penultimate end in order to retain the hammer for the last end, Murdoch's men looked on course for two but his stone was slightly over-swept and a brilliant double take-out by Edin forced the extra end.

Murdoch added: "We weren't sharp at all. We gave them a head-start but the team showed a lot of character in the last five ends and we curled the way we should have been curling.

"In the 10th end we over-swept my rock - another inch and I'm standing here with a smile on my face and a place in the semi-finals but it's not to be."

Team coach David Hay offered no excuses for the team's poor performance, which ends British curling interest in these Games following the elimination of Eve Muirhead's women's team at the group stage on Tuesday.

Hay said: "We came here to win the event and we didn't so we're pretty gutted. We didn't play well in the first half and you can't do that in the play-off stages.

"This team wasn't here for the experience. It was just a poor performance on the big day. The funding, the preparation and the build-up has been spot-on. But it's been a tricky week and we just haven't been able to dominate."

Murdoch's men will be expected to regroup to play in the Scottish Championship play-offs just 48 hours after their arrival back in Great Britain - with the prize at stake the chance to defend their world title in Italy.

As for the longer term, Murdoch refused to rule out the possibility of captaining the British team to Sochi in four years' time and continuing to chase the one major medal that still eludes him.

Murdoch added: "Sochi's four years away and there's a lot of thinking time before that. The thing missing for me is an Olympic medal. I'd certainly like to go back. We're more than capable - we just need to be sharper in Olympic week."