Winter Olympics: British shine in curling's Olympic debut

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The Independent Online
Curling's debut as a medal sport at the Olympics yesterday brought promising results for the British men's and women's team. The women joined Sweden, Denmark and the favourites, Canada, as winners by beating the hosts, Japan, 7-5. In the men's competition, Britain started with a 4- 2 win over Norway.

A demonstration sport at the first Winter Olympics in Chamonix in 1924 and several times since, curling was the last of three new additions to be welcomed into the Olympics at the Nagano Games.

It was easy to understand why the sport has struggled for recognition. Only a few hundred spectators, mostly Canadians, made the 30-minute journey by bullet train to Karuizawa, for the opening contests and the American broadcaster, CBS, who paid a Winter Olympic record $375m (pounds 230m) for the rights to the Games, has no plans to show any of the curling competition.

The lack of interest was lost on the curlers, who were ushered on to the ice by the shrill of Scottish bagpipes, basking in their moment of Olympic glory.

"It's a great honour to be playing and representing Britain," said the British skip Kirsty Hay, who celebrated her birthday yesterday with the defeat of Japan. "To be in this sport now and one of the first teams to throw a rock at the Olympics is special."

Eight countries in both the men's and women's competition will compete for medals, with Canadian rinks expected to sweep the golds.

In the men's 30km classical cross-country at the Snow Harp in Hakuba, Mika Myllylae won in 1hr 33min 55.8sec to give Finland its first individual gold in 34 years.

The Norwegian hero, Bjorn Daehlie, bidding to become the first man to amass six Winter Games gold medals, finished 20th after employing the wrong wax for the changeable weather. "I felt very lonely out there in the woods," he said. "I didn't see any spectators and I was wondering if these were really the Olympics."

In the women's 15km biathlon, Ekaterina Dafovska upstaged the favourites and won the gold for Bulgaria in falling snow and a gusting wind.

On the ice rink, Ruslan Salei became the first National Hockey League player to score at the Olympics, helping Belarus to rout Germany 8-2 and secure the east European side's place in the medal round against the NHL "Dream Teams".

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