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Canada’s curlers get rolling in Sochi

February 13, 2014

SOCHI, Russia (AP) — A female spectator wearing a hat in the shape of a plastic curling rock clapped, then held up a sign that read: “Team Canada has real stones.”

Ominously for its rivals, Team Canada also has real momentum in the men’s Olympic tournament.

The two-time defending champions strung together back-to-back wins for the first time in Sochi by beating Denmark 7-6 on Thursday, putting a smile back on the face of its skip Brad Jacobs.

“We are getting better,” said Jacobs, whose team has been scratching around for its best form this week. “I think we are learning each and every game and we are bringing a lot more intensity out there now.”

Jacobs’ rink, the gold-medal favorite coming into the Olympics, is in a major competition abroad for the first time and has found it difficult playing in front of Russian crowds that are far more boisterous than those in Canada.

That might explain why they lost to Sweden and Switzerland in their opening two games. But a team-bonding session, which included watching video clips of their unbeaten campaign in the Canadian Olympic trials, seems to have boosted their confidence.

The improvement was clear to see against Russia on Wednesday and then the Danes a day later.

“We are more used to adversity than sailing through things,” Jacobs said. “It’s familiar territory for us and there’s nothing wrong with a good grind in a week of curling. We like it.”

It was a successful afternoon for two of the other favorites for the podium positions.

Sweden consigned Norway to a first loss in the tournament by beating its Nordic rival 5-4, and Britain defeated the United States 5-3.

The Swedes and British are 4-1 and Canada is 3-2. Their victories kept the pressure on China, which tops the 10-team standings at 4-0 and had a bye on Thursday. The top four teams qualify for the semifinal.

Norway had its first real test against Sweden, after opening the tournament with wins over the U.S., Russia and Germany.

In the end, their snazzy pants — in the pattern and the red-white-and-blue colors of the Norway flag — were sharper than the team’s play.

“They are our biggest rivals but also our best friends on tour,” Norway curler Christoffer Svae said of the Swedes. “So a little mixed feelings. Obviously, we hate to lose to them but we are happy to be 3-1 after four games.”

Sweden bounced back from a sluggish performance in defeat to Denmark on Wednesday, taking a 4-1 lead by the fifth end and holding on without any real scares.

Britain is winning with a minimum of fuss in Sochi. David Murdoch’s team was far too good for the Americans, who slipped to 1-3 and have little room to maneuver in their final five games of the tournament.

“We didn’t play good enough to beat those guys, and they played great,” U.S. player Jared Zezel said.

The biggest cheer of the afternoon came when Switzerland skip Sven Michel was heavy with a routine draw shot with his final stone of the 10th and last end, allowing Russia to steal three points and giving the host nation a 7-6 win.

Russia skip Andrey Drozdov tumbled to the ice, falling hard on his left shoulder, as he furiously swept during the first end but finished the game hugging his teammates and celebrating his team’s first victory in five attempts.

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