Winter Olympics: Curling - Britain brushed aside by brilliance of Canada

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The Independent Online
The British curling teams had mixed fortunes yesterday. But the future of the sport here, which effectively means in Scotland, seems secure as Mike Rowbottom explains from Karuizawa.

In retrospect, it was not the occasion Britain's men's curling team would have wished for Princess Anne to witness.

As their Royal spectator gazed down from her seat in the Kazakoshi Park Arena, the British skip, Dougie Dryburgh and his three Scottish compatriots saw their Winter Olympic medal ambitions thrown into harsh perspective by their second defeat of the day.

To lose to the tournament favourites, Canada, was neither a surprise nor a disgrace. But the margin of victory - 10-3, with two of the 10 ends not required - caused Dryburgh to purse his lips in dissatisfaction afterwards. "They were too good for us," the 32-year-old RAF Flight Lieutenant said. "We weren't firing on four cylinders today. I don't know why, because the boys seemed to be up for it at the start of play.

"But you've got to be sharp to win at this level, and we certainly weren't that today. To lose 10-3 was a monumental gubbins.''

What made the events of the day harder to take for the team who represent one of Britain's three realistic medal prospects here was the fact that they followed an ideal debut on the previous day, when curling had made its own official debut in the Olympics.

A 4-2 win over Norway in the first of their seven round-robin matches put the Scottish - sorry, British - quartet of Dryburgh, brothers Philip and Peter Wilson and Ronnie Napier in a strong position for yesterday's fixtures against Switzerland and Canada.

But the morning match was lost 10-4, and the evening match turned into - well, a monumental gubbins.

The four Scots had appeared relaxed enough before last night's match, with Napier venturing a little air guitar in accompaniment to the booming introductory music. But after going 2-0 down in the first end, the mood of the Scots grew dour as the Canadians, skipped by the ineffably laid-back Mike Harris, shut them out of the match.

Harris provided a striking contrast to the wiry, increasingly worried figure of Dryburgh as they stood side by side directing the stones launched down the pebbled ice by their colleagues.

This centuries-old game, which has strong similarities with bowls, is sometimes known as "chess on ice" because of its subtle tactics. Last night, Harris made it look something far simpler - draughts on ice, perhaps.

Britain's men still have four group matches remaining to secure one of the four semi-final places. But they need to rediscover the form that brought them the European bronze medal shortly before Christmas as they face Sweden today.

"We need to win three out of four," Dryburgh said. "It's possible - but we need to win against Sweden. We don't want to go two days without a win.''

The Princess, who stayed on to commiserate with the British players, is said to be both keen and knowledgeable about the game. "She said she'd enjoyed the match, and told us 'hard luck, but keep on going,'" Dryburgh said.

Dryburgh acknowledges that all the media attention which has come the game's way since its inclusion in the Games has been hugely beneficial.

The midday session of play saw the cameras focused on Britain's women as they secured their second win in three games. A thrilling finish decided with the last delivery was beautifully timed for the visiting minister for sport, Tony Banks.

"He was very enthusiastic about what he had seen," a member of the British curling party said. "And he said he would be putting a lot more money into the sport back home.''

The future, then, looks bright for this sporting fusion of deep thought, radar vision and frantic brushing - even if the medium-term prospects for Dryburgh and co look difficult.

One thing was certain last night. There was no question of them drowning their sorrows. "We've all given up drinking for the last three months," Dryburgh said. "We are taking this very seriously." A Scotsman could hardly get more serious...

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