Bronze medal eludes Britain's brave quartet

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The Independent Online

A campaign that had begun so brightly ended sadly here yesterday for the four Scots comprising Britain's male curling team as they missed out on a bronze medal two days after the prospect of gold or silver had disappeared with the last stone of their semi-final against Finland.

Having looked strong candidates to double Britain's medal total at these Games after qualifying with six wins from their first seven matches, David Murdoch's team have eventually had to accept the bitterest position of all, replicating the fate suffered by Kirsty Hay and her team at the Nagano Games in 1998.

Yesterday's 8-6 defeat by the United States did not appear to have the same stunning effect on the Brits as their loss to Finland. But this, be assured, hurt just as much. "It's every bit as hard," said Ewan MacDonald, who was in the side which finished seventh four years ago when his wife, Fiona, was part of Rhona Martin's gold medal-winning team. "Obviously the semi-final was massive, but coming away from it you can still get a medal. Now we haven't done that."

Murdoch, a 27-year-old beef farmer from Lockerbie, was equally disconsolate. "It's a bit devastating," he said. "It will be with me for a long time, but hopefully I'll get the chance to bury it at the next Olympics." The British skip added that the quality of the ice had varied, preventing his team from playing their normal adventurous, attacking game. "We got a little bit unlucky," he added. "But that's what happens in curling. It comes down to a matter of inches, and the best team doesn't always get to the final. We played our hearts out."

The US team were never out of control after winning the toss to earn the right to start with the hammer - the right to deliver the last stone. The match tipped decisively their way in the third of the 10 ends, when they made up three shots to go 4-1 ahead.

"Both of David's last shots didn't curl as much as we would have liked," MacDonald said. "If that stone had swung over maybe another inch, then probably they didn't have that shot." After the US team moved to 6-2 after the sixth end, it looked all up for the Britons, but Murdoch recovered three shots immediately. In doing so, however, he ceded the hammer to his opponents, who eventually took full advantage.

Now, ludicrously, the team have to play in the Scottish Championships starting on Tuesday to qualify for the World Championships in April. Murdoch, meanwhile, is contemplating getting back to the family farm, where his first task will be... well, he's not sure. "It depends how nice my Dad wants to be to me," he said with a faint grin.

* The 10 Austrian cross-country skiers and biathletes dope tested following the raid on their Alpine headquarters have all tested negative, an International Olympic Committee spokesperson announced last night.