GREAT Britain’s wheelchair curlers are just one win away from guaranteeing themselves at least a Winter Paralympic silver medal. And, with the slate wiped clean, Jim Gault insists his team have as good a chance as anyone of leaving Sochi crowned champions.
Led by skip Aileen Neilson, the British rink secured their progression to the last four thanks to an extra-end 8-7 victory over the USA.
Defeat by China in their final round-robin game proved irrelevant as Slovakia, the only side capable of forcing GB into a play-off, lost to Russia.
And it will be the hosts who Britain take on in their semi-final today – the Russians having finished top of the pile with seven wins and just one defeat.
An 11-2 loss to the hosts on Wednesday – equalling GB’s heaviest ever defeat at a Games – will not be a fond memory our curlers will want to call upon when they take to the ice.
But, having beaten Russia in the final of the US Open at the start of December – when competing as Scotland – Gault knows it is within his team to upset the host nation in front of their home fans.
“Qualification for the last play-offs was our main target from the get-go and that was why getting through the round-robin stage was so massive,” he said. “We never gave up against the US and had a plan and stuck to it. We did what we needed to. Now we have a chance to go and get a medal. We need to stay focused and keep our eye on the ball. We know they are beatable and we have beaten them before and had tight games with them.
“There will be a lot of Russians supporting them in there but we are going to have to try to use that to our advantage.
“I don’t want to be chasing them like we did in the round-robin match so we will have to make a good start. We are all on a level playing field now. All the wins and losses are taken away and it is all to play for. There are eight ends, 16 stones each and that is it – we have beaten all the other three teams before so it is all level.”
The round-robin stage proved to be as successful as it was disappointing for GB as they recorded both their biggest Winter Paralympic victory and worst ever defeat.
Following a tight 6-3 loss to defending champions Canada on the opening morning, the GB rink responded with three straight victories.
Neilson and company swept aside two of the world’s top-three sides Sweden and Korea, 6-4 and 8-4 respectively, before demolishing Slovakia 12-2 – their biggest win.
But consistency proved to be a problem as a heavy 13-4 defeat to Finland, who finished bottom of the standings, was followed by a 7-3 win over Norway.
Defeat to Russia on Wednesday cranked up the pressure to secure progression to the knockout stages, but a comeback victory over the USA proved enough.
Britain have seemed to struggle to get going in their last few matches, relying on the cool head of Neilson to get them out of trouble on a few occasions.
But Bob McPherson believes his team have not yet reached their peak in the Ice Cube Curling Centre and is looking to make a statement today.
“I don’t think we have peaked yet so there is definitely more to come from us,” said McPherson, who is making his Winter Paralympic debut. “There have been some highs and lows during the round-robin stage but we pulled it out to get into the last four.
“It has been good that everyone has had a shot of playing and to get a feel for the Games and what it is like out there.”
l Sainsbury’s is a proud long-term supporter of the British Paralympic Association and a champion of inclusive sport for all. For more information on Sainsbury’s commitment to inclusive sport visit: www.Sainsburys.co.uk/activekids