VANCOUVER – Canadian curler Cheryl Bernard has stolen her way to the playoffs and the No. 1 seed at the Vancouver Olympics.
Bernard picked up four steals against 19-year-old British skip Eve Muirhead Tuesday en route to a 6-5 win. With the victory, the Calgary skip improved her round-robin record at the Winter Games to 7-1 and assured her rink top seed for Thursday’s semifinal playoffs.
“That was again one of our better games, up in the top couple of per cent,” Bernard said after the win.
Then, in what may be a terrifying realization for the rest of the field, she added: “I still think there’s room, I think we can improve a little bit more.”
Bernard, a 43-year-old from Calgary, will open the playoff round against two-time Olympic silver medallist Mirjam Ott of Switzerland on Thursday. Bernard beat Ott 5-4 in her Games debut with a harrowing draw in the 10th end.
The loss was the first of three in a row for Ott to start the tournament, though she rebounded by winning her next five contests.
Bernard said she, third Susan O’Connor, second Carolyn Darbyshire, and lead Cori Bartel expect to be in a tough match against the Swiss team Thursday.
“We’re going to have to play like we’ve been playing, even a little bit better,” she said.
Tuesday’s game ended similarly to the first four Bernard played at these Games — she won it with her final stone, showing a flair for the dramatic that’s earned her the nickname “Last Shot.”
But the match was hardly close throughout, as Muirhead struggled to find her feel for the rock.
The British skip missed routine draws with her hammer in the second, seventh and eighth ends, allowing Canada to steal points all three times.
Muirhead charged back to score two in the ninth to cut Bernard’s lead to 5-4, then stole a point in the 10th to force an extra frame.
But that’s where the Olympic dream ended for the three-time world junior champion, who closed out the tournament losing her final five decisions after starting 3-1.
“We missed a few crucial draws out there that kind of slipped … but I think we definitely got our heads held high and went out there and fought for two in the ninth end,” she said.
“But Cheryl’s playing fantastic out there and I’m sure she’s going to be the team to beat.”
As for the woman Bernard will meet in the semifinal, Ott said she’s feeling confident after opening the tournament with losses to Canada, China and Sweden.
“We knew we had a hard start and we had very close losses and we were still confident,” Ott said. “It was tough for us to keep going on but we did it well and I’m proud of my team.”
Ott said she has played Bernard in tournaments before and watched a few of her games.
She said it will be hard enough taking on the Canadian rink — never mind the boisterous fans.
“I hope it will be a good game and a tough game and that there are some people cheering a little bit for us,” she said.
The bad news for Ott might well be that the three teams she lost to in the round-robin are the three in the playoff round alongside her.
Sweden and China will meet in the other tournament semifinal.
“Our goal coming here was to be in the playoffs so we are there now so we’re very happy with that,” Swedish skip Anette Norberg said after a 10-6 win over Japan that improved her team’s record to 6-2.
Norberg beat China, skipped by Bingyu Wang, earlier in the tournament, but was on the wrong end of a heartbreaking game against the Chinese in the world championship last year.
“We played them in the final last year at the Worlds but we lost the final but that was not one of our best games ever,” Norberg said. “Hopefully we’ll do better this time.”