Sunday, 27 November 2016

Womens' 2016 European Curling Championships Final

Braehead Arena

November 29th 2016

I had, of course, hoped to see Eve Muirhead and her team in this final.  But the Scotland side, in true Caledonia-style, had messed up things quite spectacularly, twenty-four hours earlier.  For, after having dominated the round-robin stage, wherein they had finished top of the table with nine wins out of nine, Scotland then proceeded to lose their semi-final tie against the (statistically anyway), weakest side left in the competition; Russia.  The same Russian team they had bashed 8-4 the previous day.  

That the Scots ladies conceded three points in each of three separate ends during their defeat, gives an indication of how poorly they had performed – in their nine round-robin matches, only once, against The Finns, had three points been shipped at a single end.

Thus, it was the Russian ladies who lined up against Sweden this morning, in front of an attendance which could only be described as paltry.  The Braehead Arena can hold around 4,000 folks I believe, but I seriously doubt if there were a twentieth of that number present to witness the start of this final.  Although, to be fair, the numbers had swelled to perhaps 400 by the time of the climax to proceedings, as folk dribbled in.

I do not know what sort of attendances European Curling Finals attract in places like Sweden and Switzerland, but I cannot imagine them be played out to such a smattering of souls as this one was.  It is most unlikely the poor turn-out would have done much to boost Renfrewshire Council's bid to have Paisley designated at as European City of Culture in 2021.

The Braehead Arena.

Another memory I will take away from this final, is of the girls on both sides being compelled to play two sports simultaneously; Curling and Catch The Confetti.  For clearly, in the recent past, one of those foil-confetti cannons had been used at some less sedate event or other.  And a few stragglers had somehow found their way up onto the pipework and girders on the ceiling.

With the result, every five minutes or so one would become dislodged by the air-con, and begin fluttering down towards the ice, generally to be caught and disposed of one or other of the competitors.  All a bit embarrassing for the organisers I should imagine, although a section of the crowd did enjoy encouraging the girls' attempts to catch the blighters before they hit the ice.

I have to say though, in between the bouts of litter grabbing, we witnessed a really quite engrossing final, boasting an unforgettable twist at the climax.  

The Swedes had initially picked up two points at the opening end and, thereafter it (to me anyway) appeared that the Russian girls were stuck playing catch-up; snatching occasional singles whenever they could.  Although, to their credit,  by the sixth end they had drawn level at 3-3.  Sweden picked up a single point at the all important eighth end – important as it meant, in all likelihood, they would enjoy The Hammer – last stone of the match – in the tenth and final end.  Which as it transpired, they did.

This last end proved to be a remarkably busy affair, with the approach to house at times seemingly littered with guard stones.   Each time the Russians' attempted to place a stone in the house, the Swedish girls knocked it back out in no uncertain manner.  Eventually we arrived at the final stone, with the Russian' girls despite their best efforts seemingly destined to lose out.  For although they had two stones in the house, the Swedish skip Anna Hasselborg was faced with what looked a relatively straightforward route past a selection of guard stones of both colours to take the match.

Off went the last stone – seemingly on target, for there was none of the frantic yelling of instructions one occasionally hears from Skips when things are not going to plan.  Clearly the stone was expected to curl past a guard before gliding gently into the house.  BUT IT DID NOT CURL, and instead bumped into into another Swedish stone, well short of its target.  

Cue an astonished gasp from those watching, Hasselborg kneeling down head in her hands, and a quartet of disbelieving Russians upon whom it was gradually dawning they had just become European Champions.  I was pleased to note the winners had the presence of mind to shake hands with their opponents, before their celebratory group hug.  

It really was an utterly bizarre ending to what had been although a close tussle; certainly one which the Swedes long looked as if they had under control..

Interviewed afterwards, the Russian Skip Victoria Moiseeva was disarmingly frank: “We don't quite understand how this has happened to us”.  

As for Hasselborg, she was equally baffled: "I still can't believe that we actually lost," she said. "I had played the exact same shot earlier and we had the same ice - I have no idea how that last rock ran.  I have no words”.

One hopes not, but I shouldn't be in the least surprised if one of those pesky little foil strips had somehow escaped detection and landed on the ice, and was responsible for that final stone misbehaving.

Crappy pictures, I know - for although I took my "good" camera...I left the battery in the charger at home.  Idiot.

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