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Hard to pick a favorite in men's Olympic curling

Saturday, February 15, 2014
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Russian fans fly their national flag in support of their men's curling team playing against China during the men's curling competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, in Sochi, Russia.
Russian fans fly their national flag in support of their men's curling team playing against China during the men's curling competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, in Sochi, Russia.

— With seven wins from seven, it's hard to look past Canada for the gold medal in women's Olympic curling.

The men's tournament? Well, that just looks wide open.

Five teams — China, Sweden, Canada, Britain and Norway — are battling for four semifinal places with two days left in the round-robin stage at the Ice Cube Curling Center. And it's difficult to state a case for any of them being the out-and-out favorite.

Norway (3-3) certainly has the hardest task.

The Norwegians and their flamboyant pants likely will be on their way out of Sochi a week earlier than expected if they fail to win their final three games. On Sunday, they play Britain in the morning and China in the evening.

"I think we are still in there," Norway curler Christoffer Svae said. "I think a lot of games are really open and a lot of teams can beat each other. People are nervous out there. Anything can happen.

"But we probably need to win out."

China is 6-1 — along with Sweden — and is the surprise of the tournament, with the appointment of Canadian curling great Marcel Rocque as its temporary coach in July proving to be a masterstroke. The technique has always been there with the Chinese, but there have always been doubts about their strategy and temperament.

They seem to have gone.

"Now they are starting to get a grip of the game tactically," said Svae, whose team lost to China on Friday. "They are coming fast and it's just a matter of time before they get a medal. It could happen here."

The Chinese have failed to contend in any major tournament in their short curling history, though. Their final group games are against Britain and then Canada. One win will see them advance.

Sweden, the reigning world champion, is living up to its reputation as the most gritty team on the circuit and has already secured last-stone wins against China, Norway and Canada. Surprisingly, its only defeat has come at the hands of Denmark.

Canada was most people's favorite heading into the men's tournament but has looked fallible in Brad Jacobs' rink's first major tournament abroad. With two defeats and a number of scrappy wins to their name, the Canadians haven't matched their brilliant form of the Olympic trials when they cruised through unbeaten.

"It's not always going to be perfect," skip Jacobs said. "Our trials performance was perfect right from day one to the last day. But this is curling. This is sports. There is always going to be adversity."

In the women's event, Sweden, China, Britain and Switzerland look to be fighting for three spots in the playoffs with already-qualified Canada (7-0).

Sweden (5-2) plays Russia and Switzerland (4-3) takes on Japan on Sunday. Britain and China (both 4-3) have the day off.

 
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