A stone's throw
Canada beats U.S. for women's curling bronze medalPosted: Thursday February 21, 2002 2:02 PM
Updated: Thursday February 21, 2002 5:21 PM
OGDEN, Utah (AP) -- Ann Swisshelm envisions a day when American teenagers can pick up a broom and sweep, sweep, sweep.
And nobody will laugh.
She's not nagging the kids to clean their room. Swisshelm wants her sport, curling, to ride an Olympic publicity wave into the lives of young people around the United States.
"How cool would it be to walk around with a broom?" Swisshelm asked after Canada beat the Americans 9-5 in the women's bronze medal game Thursday. "You'd have to be a pretty cool teenager to do that."
OK, so curling may have trouble challenging skeleton, short-track speedskating, snowboarding and freestyle skiing for the short attention spans of American teens.
It would have helped to win medals, as those sports did, but the curlers still have a growing fan base. Team members received e-mails from fraternity houses around the country after their Olympic matches were shown on cable television.
"For a 30-plus athlete, it's pretty cool to have fan mail from a 19-year-old," said the 33-year-old Swisshelm.
It was a huge boost for the American women to get this far. They started the round-robin tournament 2-3, then won four straight before losing to Switzerland in the semifinals.
Too bad for U.S. medal prospects that the Americans were paired against the Canadians, the defending Olympic gold medalists who were upset in the semifinals by Britain.
"It was a tough match," U.S. skip Kari Erickson said. "We had some opportunities to score but Canada outplayed us."
In the interview room, the Americans chuckled and cracked jokes. The Canadians, gracious as they tried to be, were very serious. In Canada, curling ranks second only to hockey.
"It's not what we came here for," said Canadian second Georgina Wheatcroft. "We're a great team and we bounced back. We've got to say we're one of the best teams here. I will cherish this bronze medal forever."
The United States won a bronze in men's curling at the 1992 Albertville Olympics, but back then it was a demonstration sport.
The Americans were competitive, tying the match at 2 through three ends. They were within 7-5 in the eighth, but Canada skip Kelley Law and her team never lost their grip on the match.
In the seventh, Erickson bumped a U.S. stone into the middle of the house, but Law knocked it out with her next shot.
On her next shot, Erickson took out the Canadian stone, but Law bumped Erickson's stone right after that. So it went, knock for knock, with the Canadians methodically pulling ahead.
"We worked really hard," said U.S. third Debbie McCormick. "I think we did really good. We could have been one of the six teams that didn't make it to the semifinals."
The average American sports fans might catch a few seconds of curling on television and wonder, "What's with the brooms?" The Canadians, on the other hand, can't live without the sport.
A quick curling primer: Think of the ends like innings in baseball, imagine the strategy that goes into each match as a chess game on ice and think of the 42-pound curling stones as frozen bowling balls.
And the brooms? Players sweep frantically to create friction, warming the ice just enough to make the stones travel farther and straighter.
"If you explained baseball to somebody who's never seen it, it sounds absurd," Swisshelm said. "I think curling is going to be talked about. Elite writers are going to talk about our stats instead of whatever they talk about."
Usually, they make fun of curling or call it shuffleboard on ice. It was a hit, though, for the 1,500 fans inside the chilly arena who chanted "U-S-A, U-S-A" after Erickson put two stones in the house to make it 7-5 in the eighth.
The Canadians had a strategical advantage because they shot last in the last two ends. After the Canadians scored one point in the ninth end to lead 8-5, the outcome was essentially decided.
"I'm proud to finish fourth," Erickson said. "We finished it good."