By Steve Keating
GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) – Japan clinched a semi-final spot in Olympic women’s curling and South Korea closed out preliminary round play with a win over Denmark on Wednesday as two Asia nations reached the last four at a Winter Games for the first time.
With South Korea, Sweden and Britain having locked up playoff places the spotlight was on Japan who claimed the last place despite losing 8-4 to Switzerland.
That opened the door for the United States to force a tie-breaker with Japan if they beat Sweden but the Americans failed to close the deal as they lost 9-6 to the Swedes in extra ends.
“It’s a tough way to get in with the way we played against the Swiss but we can’t worry about that one game we had a good performance all week and that got us to that point,” Japan coach J.D. Lind told reporters.
Another near capacity crowd of mainly South Koreans filled the Gangneung Curling Centre to cheer on their beloved Garlic Girls who have become the social media darlings of the Winter Games.
Skip Kim Eun-jung’s foursome, who got their nickname coming from a community known for farming garlic, delighted the flag-waving crowd with another display of precision curling as they eased past Denmark 9-3 in seven ends.
After shaking hands the Korean foursome turned to the crowd and bowed before leaving the ice to a standing ovation.
The victory left South Korea at the top of the preliminary round standings with an 8-1 record, their only loss coming against Japan, who they will meet again in Friday’s semi-finals.
At least one Asian team will play for the gold with Sweden and Britain clashing in the other semi.
“We’ve got Korea again, we’ve played them many times being in the Pacific region, we’re just excited to get the opportunity,” Lind said.
“It will be very exciting to know that somebody from the Pacific Asia region will get a medal and that’s an amazing thing for our sport.”
Canada wrapped up preliminary play with a consolation 9-8 win over the Olympic Athletes from Russia but it did little to ease the disappointment as the defending gold medalists missed out on the playoffs with a 4-5 record.
Rachel Homan’s rink will return home with the dubious distinction of being the first Canadian team, male or female, to fail to reach the podium since curling became part of the Olympic program at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)