Curlers ride luck but book semi-final slot

GREGOR Ewan believes a final round robin defeat could be the wake-up call Britain’s wheelchair curlers need as they fortuitously booked a guaranteed match for a medal at the Winter Paralympics.
Britain's Jim Gault and skip Aileen Neilson of Britain at the Ice Cube Curling Centre. Picture: Getty ImagesBritain's Jim Gault and skip Aileen Neilson of Britain at the Ice Cube Curling Centre. Picture: Getty Images
Britain's Jim Gault and skip Aileen Neilson of Britain at the Ice Cube Curling Centre. Picture: Getty Images

The British rink pulled off a rousing fightback from 6-2 down to defeat the USA 8-7 after an extra end yesterday morning with a win over China hours later set to seal their route to the semi-finals. However, they slumped to a 6-3 loss on sheet A at the Ice Cube Curling Centre, meaning if Slovakia were to beat already-qualified Russia on sheet B then a tiebreaker would be in order. But a strong final end from the Russians helped them secure a 7-4 win over the Slovakians and ensured Britain, rather luckily, qualified in fourth for tomorrow’s semi-finals.

There they will play none other than the host nation who aided their advancement and who inflicted a heavy 11-2 defeat on Aileen Neilson’s rink in the round-robin stage. Another loss wouldn’t end Britain’s hopes of a first Winter Paralympic wheelchair curling medal since Turin 2006 with the losing semi-finalists meeting in the bronze medal match. And Ewan, making his Winter Paralympic debut, insists while it would have been convenient to carry through some momentum, defeat to China could be the reality check needed

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“It is fantastic to get through, that is what we have trained for the last year and that is what our goal was,” he said. “I am over the moon because I tried to go to Vancouver in 2010, didn’t make it and my main goal since was to get to Sochi. Since joining the British wheelchair curling programme I wanted to get into the semi-finals and we’ve done that so it’s great. It is always good to win the last game but at the same time it’s good to have a kick in the teeth so you can refocus and come back stronger. Against Russia in the round-robin stage we ended up chasing them but hopefully we can turn that around and force them to play hard shots and help us have easy shots.”

It was looking like Britain were heading for defeat against the USA first time out yesterday as they trailed 6-2 heading into the seventh end. But skip Neilson slid her final stone into the house to score five in that end and give Britain the lead heading into the final end.

A solid finish from USA skip Patrick McDonald forced the game into an extra end but there he was unable to reproduce the goods, missing his last stone to hand Britain the win. And, having achieved their pre-Sochi goal of making the play-offs, skip Neilson revealed her rink will cherish their success before taking on Russia in front of their home support.

“In the morning we had a slow start and didn’t play our best but we managed to fight back and obviously the other results went our way in the evening,” she said. “I knew we had to get some points on the board [against USA] and in that seventh end I had a chance to put us one up which would be crucial and it was a good score.

“We knew in the extra end we just had to execute and get the stones in the right place and we made it a crucial shot for the USA skip and fortunately I didn’t have to throw my last stone.

“We couldn’t win against China but we managed to win enough games in the end so we just need to enjoy this moment. Obviously Russia have a strong team but I am sure we can match them. They have huge support in that arena but we have some people here cheering us on and lots of people back home, so we have great support too.”

From Sochi on the coast to Rosa Khutor in the mountains, British skiers James Whitley, Ben Sneesby and Mick Brennan were all in action in the men’s slalom.

Standing skier Whitley – making his Winter Paralympic debut aged 16 – built on a solid first run to finish 15th in a time of 1:53.43 minutes. In the sit-ski category 19-year-old Sneesby was the youngest competitor in the field but it didn’t show as he came 11th out of the 26-strong field.

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Brennan, meanwhile, was disqualified after he missed a gate during his first run but he will look for redemption today as he goes in the second half of the super combined event.

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