GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Canada heaved a collective sigh of relief on Sunday after the defending world champion women’s curling team finally nabbed its first win of the Olympic round robin, a much-needed victory for a team that had inexplicably fallen to last place.
The Canadians’ 11-3 victory over the U.S. followed three straight losses at the Pyeongchang Games, a performance that few had anticipated from a team that was heavily favored to win the gold.
On Sunday, Canada’s captain, or “skip,” Rachel Homan appeared far more confident and relaxed on the ice than the past few days. Her team grabbed a three-point lead in the first end of the game and never trailed. While Canada’s takeout shots were precise, the U.S. team missed several shots early in the game. The Americans conceded the match with three ends left to play after Homan threw a takeout and added four points to Canada’s score.
“I think we played really well in those other games, but we each had a couple key mistakes that really cost us,” Homan said. “Obviously, we’re trying our best out there. And learning from those mistakes moving forward I think was the key to today.”
The U.S. team’s skip, Nina Roth, said her team had a few unfortunate misses in the first end that put them on the back foot from the start.
“It’s hard to come back on a team like Homan, because they’re a hitting team,” she said.
Canada’s win comes one day after a stinging defeat to Denmark that was marred by controversy over a foul. With Canada trailing, a Danish player lightly touched a stone that was in motion — a flub known as a “burned rock.” Under the rules, Canada had the option of ignoring the foul, rearranging the stones to whatever position they think they would have ended up if the stone hadn’t been touched, or removing the stone from play.
Homan chose to remove the stone, the most aggressive option. While that was within the rules, many curling fans — particularly Canadians — were shocked by the move, which some dubbed dishonorable. Curling has a deeply ingrained ethos of good sportsmanship, and the rules dictate that players treat their opponents kindly.
Denmark ended up winning the game in overtime, and Homan later defended her decision to remove the rock, saying she was just following the rules.
Homan’s team appeared to put the drama behind them on Sunday, and Canadians — perhaps the most feverish curling fans on the planet — were relieved. The crowd erupted into chants of Homan’s name, and maple leaf flags waved wildly following the long-sought victory.
Jay Leroi, of Ontario, Canada, who was nursing a beer in the stands after the win, empathized with the heavy expectations his country had placed on the team.
“There’s a massive amount of pressure, because we love our winter games,” he said. “We love our hockey, we love our curling, we love our skiing, we love our boarding. This (win) is wonderful. I think that means that they’re going to be rebounding.”