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Curling's heavyweights collide

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Anna Thompson | 08:14 UK time, Sunday, 21 February 2010

Great Britain v Canada - curling does not get any bigger than that.

Two of the game's heavyweights slugged it out at Vancouver Olympic Centre in front of 6,000 passionate fans - almost all Canadian - and they weren't disappointed by what they saw.

It was an absorbing match which swung one way then the other but ultimately Canada came out on top - 7-6 to be precise - to remain unbeaten in the Olympic tournament, with six wins out of six.

Great Britain, the current world champions, were left in a precarious position with three wins and three defeats and realistically need to win their final three round robin games, against the USA, Germany and Norway to advance to the semi-finals.

curling_595_getty.jpgBritish skip David Murdoch takes on Canadian counterpart Kevin Martin Photograph: Getty

Curling is huge in Canada with more than one million people regularly playing it and it is shown on prime time television. They want the Olympic golds in curling and ice hockey. Anything less will seem like a disaster.

And although Canada have got off to a 100% start, all the chat before the match was on British skip David Murdoch's record against Canadian counterpart Kevin Martin. Murdoch had beaten him the last four times they had played and many believed he had the psychological edge over him.

Martin had bristled before the Olympic tournament began when he was questioned about Murdoch and the Canadian press did not take too kindly to claims Martin has lost his bottle on a couple of the big occasions - the 2002 Olympic final and the world championships last year.

So there was a lot of importance placed on the match. After the traditional Scottish pipers had led the teams out, Canada were the first to get on the scoresheet when they took two in the second end and the local media were boasting Martin had only lost one match in 80 after taking such a lead.

But Great Britain came right back at them in the third with a three, and it could have so easily have been a four but Murdoch just missed out. Canada evened it up in fourth but at the break Britain was back in the lead at 4-3.

The crowd had been doing their best to boost Canada by cheering their good shots, while there was only ever a ripple of applause every time GB scored, with a handful of Union Flags and the odd Saltire on show, plus a rather bizarre homemade sign which said "Bend it like Beckham", probably the first time curling and David Beckham have been mentioned in the same sentence.

Another two names you would not necessarily put together are ice hockey great Wayne Gretzky and GB's gold medal curler Rhona Martin. Gretzky, a huge curling fan, was at the match and apparently wanted to meet Rhona, who was rather dumbstruck at the idea. But alas the two sporting greats did not have the chance as he was whisked away in the sixth end.

The match resumed and Canada scored two in the sixth to again take the lead but like a wasp that won't leave you alone, Murdoch stung them again by evening it back up and then took a 6-5 advantage with just two ends remaining.

The tension was cranked up to epic proportions as Martin was happy to blank the penultimate end to gamble on keeping the hammer - or the final stone - in the 10th.

The capacity crowd broke out into a rendition of their national anthem, then stomped their feet to the sound of Queen's We Will Rock You, while a row of male twentysomethings took their tops off to reveal G-O C-A-N-A-D-A on their bare chests.

Canadafans_595_AP.jpgAround 6000 passionate Canada fans were backing their team Photograph: AP

We were getting to fever pitch as a clearly agitated Murdoch took his two allowed time-outs in the 10th end, but Martin was the one who kept a cool head and Canada scored two to secure the victory.

The crowd went wild waving their flags and cheering as Britain's Ewan MacDonald shook his head in disappointment. Martin looked mightily relieved and admitted what a "ding-dong battle" it had been.

Ironically, it had been Britain's best performance of the 2010 Games and MacDonald said they could definitely take a lot of positives out of the match, as only a couple of small errors had allowed Canada to take the win.

Murdoch described the atmosphere as "electric" and said the team could barely hear each other speak, but he knows they cannot afford any more slip-ups. "It is still in our hands which is not a bad situation we just have our backs to the wall a little bit," he said.

Afterwards Rhona told me: "It was a fantastic game of curling, played to the highest standard, which could have gone either way. But it's certainly not over for GB."

So round one to Canada. But only time will tell if these two heavyweights do battle again.

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