EVE Muirhead did her best to accentuate the positive but a careless error and a lapse in concentration made her path to Olympic curling gold a whole lot trickier.
The world champion British skip looked to be cruising in her concluding round-robin match against Denmark, taking a three-shot lead into the final end.
But the rink squandered that advantage as the game went to an extra end, which Muirhead then allowed her rivals to steal, meaning she ranked fourth, rather than third, in the overall standings.
And that means she will now play unbeaten Canada – whose skip Jennifer Jones is on red-hot form – rather than European champions Sweden in tomorrow’s semi-finals.
“We had a three-shot lead and then they played a perfect end,” said team coach David Hay.
“It wasn’t nerves, it was careless. If you are ahead by three heading into the last end you don’t expect to lose at this level.
“However, if you’d offered us a semi-final place ten days ago we would have grabbed it with both hands. Eve is pretty battle hardened, she can handle the big occasion.
“If you want to win the gold medal you’ve got to beat Canada at some point, though perhaps the big game is coming earlier than we hoped for.
“We had a shot to beat them in the round robin and we didn’t quite make it. We need to bring our best game this time.”
Muirhead insists her rink will rise to the occasion when it matters and has the resume to back up her fighting talk.
However, it is clear that the skip, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams and Claire Hamilton have yet to hit top form at the same time, despite her claims that everything is right on plan.
In contrast, Jones and her rink have hardly put a foot wrong in recent days and is the first women skip to go through the nine-match round-robin stage at the Olympics unbeaten. However, Muirhead will point to the shot she had to beat her just a few days ago and a recent commanding win at the Continental Cup in Las Vegas as evidence a win might be a surprise but certainly not a shock.
“We play Jennifer a lot on tour and it’s always a close game. I know the whole of Britain is behind us and hopefully we can do them proud,” she said.
“We had a good game against her in Las Vegas, we didn’t do anything different we just played well and executed lots of good shots.
“It’s might be this team’s first Olympics but it’s my first Olympic semi-final and Jennifer has never been to an Olympic Games either. There is a lot riding on it but we’ll relax and enjoy it and try to not get too uptight. We’ve got some momentum going and it doesn’t matter who we play at this stage of the tournament.”
Meanwhile, British men’s skip David Murdoch uttered a grateful ‘tak’ to Denmark’s Rasmus Stjerne after he caught a lucky break to keep his own seemingly fading Olympic curling ambitions alive in Sochi.
Murdoch’s rink had started their campaign with a flurry of wins but ended the round robin stages with successive defeats to Canada, Norway and now China.
And only because Stjerne’s Danish team, who were playing just for pride, pulled off a surprise win over Norway can Murdoch still dream of an elusive Olympic medal at the third attempt.
Skip Murdoch and his team of Greg Drummond, Michael Goodfellow and Scott Andrews will now face Norway’s Thomas Ulsrud in a tiebreaker to decide fourth place in the group stages early this morning, with a place alongside Sweden, Canada and China in the semi-finals – and a guaranteed match for a medal – at stake.
“It’s bittersweet because we’ve wanted to get across that finish line for a while now and we’ve just not managed it,” said Murdoch, who insisted he wasn’t worried by the fact his team have now not won since last Friday. “The Chinese skip was on fire there and you’ve got to give him credit, he had a tremendous game. We’re still in it and thankfully Denmark did us a favour.
“It seems we always do things the hard way, but we can’t complain and we’ll certainly take it, otherwise we’d be out.”
Murdoch’s rink lost narrowly to Norway on Sunday but beat them on their home ice at the recent European Championships – just one point separating the sides in both matches.
“We’ve got a good record against Norway, we usually enjoy playing those guys. We know what we’re getting from them, we know what to exploit, though they know our game very well too,” added Murdoch.
“If we play like we did I’m pretty confident and we knew there was a lot of tough games at the end of our round-robin programme.”