SOCHI, Russia — Sweden landed an early psychological blow in the women’s curling tournament by beating big rival Britain 6-4 in a tense, strategic opening game between two favorites for the title.
The Swedes hugged and waved to their small contingent of travelling fans at one end of the Ice Cube Curling Center after winning what, for many, was a rehearsal for the Feb. 20 final against Britain’s world champion team.
"It’s nice to beat them," Sweden skip Margaretha Sigfridsson said. "But we usually meet them more than once during a championship so we will meet them again.
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"The final, maybe."
For a statement of intent, though, look no further than Canada.
Jennifer Jones’ team crushed 2010 bronze-medalist China 9-2 in a shortened game that was conceded after just seven of 10 ends because of the large differential.
"I couldn’t have asked for a better start," Jones said.
Switzerland beat the United States 7-4 and Russia delighted its raucous fans by defeating Denmark 6-4 in the other first round-robin games.
The curlers struggled to make themselves heard on the ice as Russian supporters made a thunderous noise inside the 3,000-seat arena.
Sigfridsson and her team never lost focus, though.
They went 3-0 up after three ends and although Britain chipped away at the deficit to make it 3-3 after the sixth, Maria Prytz made a sublime draw into the target to win two crucial points in the seventh.
Muirhead, who flopped in the Vancouver Games in 2010 when the favorite for gold, cut an exasperated figure by the end.
"I missed a lot of shots early on, which isn’t like me, but we’ll pull together," Muirhead said.
Sweden’s women curlers are aiming for a third straight gold. The 2006 and ’10 titles were won by Anette Norberg’s team.
If anyone is going to stop the Swedes or the British, it’s likely to be Canada. Especially on Monday’s evidence.
China trudged off the ice after being administered a lesson by the Canadians, of whom much is expected in what is the country’s No. 2 sport. Canada’s men are clear favorites for gold.
"Obviously having been there and knowing what it feels like, it’s not a great feeling (to lose so heavily)," said China coach Marcel Rocque, who is a Canadian curling great and three-time world champion.
Switzerland has also been in contention for the medals at major tournaments in recent years and the 2012 world champions recovered from going 2-0 behind after three ends to beat a U.S. team skipped by Erika Brown in her third and probably final Olympics.
"We struggled with Erika’s rocks a bit," said U.S. player Debbie McCormick. "They were going a little straighter than the rest of ours and I think that got us into some trouble."