The curling world has been waiting for years for China’s men’s team to fulfil its rich potential. It just might happen at the Sochi Olympics.
The Chinese finally made a breakthrough at international level by beating Britain 6-5 in a winner-takes-all last game of the round robin to reach the Olympic semifinals on Monday.
China skip Liu Rui, arguably the star player in the tournament so far, thrust his clenched right fist into the air when his rock settled in the button for the winning point in the 10th end. Given his statistics over the past week in Sochi – he’s shooting at 88 percent accuracy – it was never really in doubt.
“The Chinese guy was on fire there,” Britain skip David Murdoch said of Liu. “It is tough when you are up against a skip who is making everything.”
The defeat bumped the British into a tiebreaker against Norway, which lost 5-3 to Denmark to miss out on advancing directly to the playoffs. Sweden and Canada already had qualified on Sunday.
Liu has been part of a China rink that has been on the circuit for the past decade. The players’ technique and dedication has never been in question but their strategy and big-game temperament certainly has, making them fall short in the top tournaments.
In their first appearance at an Olympics – in Vancouver in 2010 – the Chinese placed eighth, and they have never made the podium at a world championship.
The transformation from underachievers to gold-medal contenders can be put down in large part to the hiring of Canadian curling great Marcel Rocque for the final year of the Olympic cycle.
“You know what, my boys think they can run with anyone now, which is a big part of their success, believing they are as good as the top in the sport,” said Rocque, a three-time world champion. “I have worked a lot between the ears.”
The turning point in the game came in the eighth end when Murdoch was short with a routine draw to the button that would have earned his team a point. The Chinese stole a point, putting them ahead 5-3.
Britain scored two in the ninth but China had the hammer in the last end and Liu handled the pressure well in his last shot.
Canada will play China in the semifinals and Sweden will take on the winner of the tie-breaker.