Winter Olympics 2014: David Murdoch inspires Great Britain to clinch place in men's curling final

Murdoch's final stone of the semi-final secured the two points required to defeat Sweden 6-5 and book their place in Friday's final

The ice cube curling centre

David Murdoch, the Scot with ice in his veins, snatched a place in the Olympic final with the very last stone of a tense, fraught, nerve-racking contest with world champions Sweden on Wednesday night, curling his shot into the heart of the house to transform a one-point deficit into a one-point victory. It guarantees another medal for Britain and the country’s best Winter Olympics for 78 years.

Canada, as brash and bumptious as Murdoch’s men are self-contained and laid-back, await in tomorrow’s final. The defending champions will be favourites after they noisily brushed aside China 10-6. On the other side of the ice, Britain and Sweden wrestled each other to a breathless end.

The Swedish skip, Niklas Edin, a close friend of Murdoch, just about held the whip hand coming into the 10th and final end. But time was running out – each side has 73 minutes to play their shots over the course of the 10 ends, Britain finished the match with 24 seconds in the bank – and both had to rush shots. Somebody was going to make a mistake, and it was the Swedes who cracked first.

Edin sent an unsuccessful takeout through the house, the scoring circle, and left one of Britain’s yellow stones closest to the centre. It gave Murdoch an opening.

This is his third Games and the previous two have ended in painful and medal-less disappointment. This one will not. He curled the stone slowly, precisely into place and Britain had two shots, a place in the final and the first medal by British men for 16 years (in 2002, 2006, 2010 and previously here all the medal winners have been female).

 

“The curling gods have looked down on me pretty nice this week, which makes a change,” said Murdoch afterwards, still happily shaking his head and laughing at the events of that final end.

It was a busy day for the curling gods. While they smiled on Murdoch, they frowned on Eve Muirhead. The women’s rink had earlier been dealt a horrid misfortune on the skip’s first stone of their semi-final.

Against unbeaten Canada, the gold medal favourites, Muirhead’s first stone slid over a stray hair on the ice – this really is a sport where a hair’s breadth makes a telling difference. The disturbance, called a pick-up, was enough to send it through the house and create an opening for Canada.

Jennifer Jones, the Canadian skip, seized her chance and took a two-shot lead. A steal on the next – a shot taken when your opponents have the hammer, the final shot of the end – gave Canada a three-shot advantage and enough daylight to hold off a British recovery. Canada won 6-4 and Britain will today play Switzerland for bronze. Victory there added to the Murdoch medal would take Britain to four medals and equal their best-ever tally at a Winter Games.

“I just don’t think the curling gods were with us,” said Muirhead. “That first end, that pick-up was brutal, losing a two off something you can’t control against Canada is going to be tough to come back from.”

In Murdoch’s match there was never more than a shot between the two teams. It was a remarkably nerveless performance by the farmer’s son from Lockerbie, as well as by his young team-mates, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews and Michael Goodfellow. They train together in Stirling as full-time sportsmen, but are endearingly down to earth; they cycle to and from the athletes’ village to their matches (although their bikes were delayed getting here at the start of the Games, having been held up by Russian customs).

At 35, Murdoch is the elder statesman of the team and the only one to have been to an Olympics before. At the previous two he was expected to win a medal – he lost the bronze medal match to the US in 2006 in a game interrupted by a streaker clad only in a rubber chicken – but less so here and his performance over the last few days has been that of a man finally at sporting ease with himself.

“It’s just outrageous,” he said. “Twelve years of dedicating your life to a sport, to make a lot of sacrifices and I still can’t believe we are in the final now.

“You want the gold, there’s no doubt about that. You get this opportunity once in a lifetime and it’s up to us to seize the day. If we do that… Olympic champions, it’s incredible. I’m delighted being in the final, getting that medal that I’ve wanted for so long but we want the gold. We will push everything, absolutely everything to win that game.”

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