Murdoch's men trumped by Finland ace on final delivery
Thursday 23 February 2006
For a few heady moments here last night, David Murdoch's men thought they were into the Olympic curling gold-medal play-off after the British skip's last delivery had drifted perfectly into place and left his Finnish counterpart, Markku Uusipaavalniemi, needing to draw the final delivery directly into the centre of the house. They were wrong. After a lengthy discussion, Uusipaavalniemi held his nerve to see his team through to tomorrow's final against Canada.
As the Finns celebrated, the four Scots, who had come back to level the match in the penultimate end despite their opponents having the advantage of the last delivery, stood momentarily in shock. And although they stepped forward to offer the usual congratulations, it was almost a quarter of an hour before they could bring themselves to leave the scene of play. They stood together, stony-faced, offering each other the odd word, staring occasionally down the ice at the scoreboard which was still telling it all wrong - Finland 4, Great Britain 3.
Murdoch's ambition of emulating Britain's victorious curler of the Salt Lake Games, Rhona Martin, an ambition sharpened by frequent video viewing of the 2002 final, was gone. And although his team have the chance to earn Britain's second medal of these Games against the United States, the feeling of disappointment was tangible.
"It was heart-wrenching," said Murdoch, who had seen his team recover from going 3-1 down in the sixth end to the point where they seemed to have the match in their control. "We were happy with the way we played. We forced them into a lot of pressure shots."
The vice-skip Ewan MacDonald, who was in the team that finished seventh in Salt Lake while his wife Fiona won gold, also felt satisfied with the tactics. "We played the game we wanted to," he said. "But when a guy plays a shot like that, what can you do? I thought we had a chance at the end because it was a really tough shot, but he laid it down perfectly, so good luck to him.
"At least we have a day to regroup now. It would be a shame if we came all this way and went home with nothing to show for it. We will be raring to go in the bronze-medal match."
The head coach Mike Hay, whose former wife Kirsty suffered the frustration of finishing fourth at the Nagano Games of 1998, was grim-faced in the aftermath, maintaining that the Finns had never had the match under control. "The guys are gutted," he said. "It is bitterly disappointing."
The British team arrived on the ice to the accompaniment of the Claymore Pipes and Drums band - or, as the name on their biggest drum maintained, Claymore Pipes and Drums.com - an outfit started by a young man with Scottish ancestry and a set of bagpipes inherited from his grandmother. Given the make-up of Murdoch's team - two from Lockerbie, one from Inverness, one from Perth - the musical introduction was more likely to offer them inspiration than their opponents.
There were some gloomy prognostications from seasoned observers before the match that playing on rink D would work against the British team, as the ice was "straighter" than that on the other semi-final sheet - that is, less accommodating to stones curling round and therefore more suited to the Finns' natural, more direct game.
It was certainly the case that the house on rink D was far less heavily populated during the early ends than that of the neighbouring rink, where red and yellow-topped stones regularly amassed themselves into complex patterns.
It remained a game where concussion rather than stealth ruled, and by the time the Finnish skip stepped forward for his conclusive effort he had not had previous occasion to play such a draw in the entire match. Murdoch watched, hands on hips, as the stone travelled down the ice, before turning away, his saturnine features stiff with disappointment.
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