Cheryl Bernard beats reigning Olympic gold medallist, clinches playoff spot – Metro US

Cheryl Bernard beats reigning Olympic gold medallist, clinches playoff spot

VANCOUVER, B.C. – Ever since she clinched her spot at the Vancouver Olympics, Canadian curler Cheryl Bernard has heard her rink lacks the international experience to thrive on sport’s biggest stage.

She doesn’t expect to hear that anymore. Bernard clinched a spot in the women’s curling playoff round with a 6-2 pounding of defending Olympic gold medallist Anette Norberg of Sweden on Monday. With another round-robin victory, Bernard can clinch the No. 1 seed in the tournament.

“Our lack of international experience is probably over now,” Bernard said. “That for us is a really good thing because that was kind of a monkey on our back coming in here, that we didn’t have any.”

Bernard’s tilt with Norberg was billed as a possible gold medal preview – the two rinks entered the game with identical 5-1 records, good for first place in the tournament.

But while the Calgary skip, along with third Susan O’Connor, second Carolyn Darbyshire, and lead Cori Bartel brought a game worthy of sport’s biggest prize, the same could not be said of Norberg’s rink.

Bernard jumped out to an early 2-0 lead after Norberg left a second-end stone exposed near the button. Bernard easily banged the Swedish rock out of the house with her hammer and stuck in the four-foot circle, good for the deuce.

Norberg had a chance to cut into the lead with a draw to the four-foot marker one end later but her hammer slid to the back of the rings, giving Canada a steal of one and a 3-0 lead.

Bernard’s rink picked up another steal in the fourth end when Norberg – clearly struggling with her feel of the rock – again sailed a routine draw through the four-foot marker.

Norberg finally got on the board with a single in the fifth, but Canada answered with a single of its own in the seventh to increase the lead to 5-1.

Norberg had a chance to cut into Canada’s lead in the eighth frame but her takeout attempt wrecked on a guard, giving Canada a 6-1 edge and sealing Sweden’s fate.

In the ninth, with the game out of hand, Canadian alternate Kristie Moore even made it onto the ice. Moore is five and a half months pregnant.

“It was pretty neat,” said Moore, who would have received a medal even if she didn’t physically compete. “It brings back memories of when I played in the world junior finals way back, and it will be amazing that one day I can tell my baby that I was in the Olympics.”

Bernard said she was thrilled to earn a playoff berth and to get Moore in the game, though she was surprised by some of Norberg’s misses.

“We haven’t seen the last of them, for sure, and that won’t be the type of game they play next time,” Bernard said.

“We hadn’t really honestly thought much about medals. We thought about playoff spots because if you think of both it gets to be so much.”

Norberg chalked up her two early failed draws – she curled only 69 per cent compared to Bernard’s 93 per cent – to bad rocks.

“In the beginning, I had the two stones with different draw weights so that was one of the explanations,” she said.

“I played it with the same weight I used to do all the tournament but it was just faster than the other ones I played and it just went too far a couple of times.”

Norberg, a two-time world champion, started the Olympics 4-0 but has suffered two losses in her last three games, including a shocker to Russia.

She downplayed the importance of the round robin match with Canada and obtaining the tournament’s No. 1 seed.

“The goal was to be in the playoffs after the round robin and we still have a very good chance of being that,” she said.

Sweden is now 5-2 at the Olympics and sits all alone in second place, behind Canada (6-1). Nipping at Sweden’s heels is China (5-3), which was upset 7-4 by Russia on Monday.

Daniel Rafael, the Chinese national team’s Canadian-born coach, said his rink just doesn’t have the passion for the game that other teams do and his players treat curling like a job.

“We show up today against a bottom-feeder and we don’t make a shot,” he said.

Rafael, whose contract expires in June, said he won’t return to coach the team and he described himself as “furious” at his rink’s reaction to the loss that wiped out any chance China had at the No. 1 seed.

“They think it’s funny, for whatever reason,” he said.

Skip Wang Bingyu said she and her rink do love the game, though she wouldn’t deny Rafael’s assertion that members of the team plan to give up curling when the Olympics are over.

“We love curling,” she said.

“I’m so (upset) with this game. We are playing not to our level and we can do better than this game.”

While the top of the women’s table is slowly starting to sort itself out, the bottom remains wide open.

Switzerland took over sole possession of fourth place with a 10-4 thumping of Japan. Switzerland, which is skipped by two-time Olympic silver medallist Mirjam Ott, started the tournament 0-3 but has now won four in a row. Also Monday, Denmark edged Britain 9-8.

Germany and Japan are tied for fifth place at 3-4. Denmark, Britain and Russia are right behind at 3-5.

The top four teams advance to the playoff stage.

Though some might suggest Canada will suffer a bit of a letdown in its remaining round-robin games after clinching a playoff berth, Bernard said that won’t be the case.

“It’s so important (to win the last two games),” Bernard said. “You don’t want to just slide in. You want to go (into the playoffs) strong.”

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