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U.S. women's curling team to play for bronze

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Thursday, February 21, 2002
Britain wins dramatic gold; Canada takes bronze

Associated Press

OGDEN, Utah -- Ann Swisshelm envisions a day when American teen-agers can pick up a broom and sweep, sweep, sweep.

U.S. women's curling
The U.S. women's curling team lost out on a medal, but they did make strides for the program.

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 teen-ager to do that."

Britain beat Switzerland 4-3 for the gold medal in a dramatic finish that was decided in the 10th end. It was Britain's first gold medal at the Winter Olympics since Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean won ice dancing in 1984.

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 have a growing fan base. Team members received e-mails from fraternity houses 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."

The Canadians, gracious as they tried to be, were 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."

The United States won a bronze in men's curling at the 1992 Albertville Olympics, but back then it was a demonstration sport.

In the gold-medal match, it came down to the last throw for both teams. Swiss skip Luzia Ebnoether bumped a British stone and placed both teams' rocks on the button. So it came down to the final throw by British captain Rhona Martin.

Her stone slowed as it approached the house, bringing fans to their feet in cheers. It slid slowly up to the Swiss stone and nudged it just enough to leave Martin's throw on the mark.

British sweepers Debbie Knox, Fiona McDonald and Janice Rankin dropped their brooms on the ice and threw their arms up in celebration as fans waved Scottish flags in the stands.

"They jumped in the air," Martin said. "I couldn't even see the stone, so I figured it must have been good."

It was another dramatic finish for Britain, which upset Canada 6-5 in the semifinals when Martin placed a stone on her final shot of the 10th end.

All four members of the British team are from Scotland, birthplace of the sport. When curling made its debut as an Olympic sport at the 1998 Nagano Games, Britain lost the bronze medal game to Sweden.

The Americans were competitive against the Canadians, 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."