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Why did British curlers flop in Vancouver?

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Anna Thompson | 09:41 UK time, Thursday, 25 February 2010

Great Britain's men's curlers came to Vancouver with one objective - to win Olympic gold.

They were the current world champions and had beaten Canada on the four occasions they had met before the Games began, giving David Murdoch's men what was thought to be a key psychological edge over their major rivals for the title.

But Britain didn't even make the gold medal showdown at Vancouver Olympic Centre. Their hopes and dreams came crashing down around them when they failed to make it to the semi-finals after a galling 7-6 play-off defeat by European champions Sweden.

Murdoch, Euan Byers, Pete Smith and Ewan MacDonald were crestfallen - the only word they could summon to explain their feelings was "heart-breaking" - and there will now be an inquest into why they performed so poorly when so much was expected of them.

Britain's women's team, led by 19-year-old Eve Muirhead, also failed to make it to the semi-finals. But, having been ranked seventh, it would have been a major achievement had they reached the last four.

david_murdoch_new595.jpgMurdoch's team were among the favourites to win gold

The men should have breezed - like Canada - through the round robin stage. Instead, they managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory against Switzerland and blew chances to win against Norway in their final group match as well as the play-off against Sweden.

A downcast Rhona Martin, the gold-medal winning skip for Britain's women in 2002, was bemused by the men's failure.

"The women played to their rank and needed to raise it a few percentage points to get among the medal contenders but the men are the current world champions and knew what level was expected of them," she told me. "They played to their potential in some matches, like against Canada, but in others really lacked the intensity.

"There were points of brilliance in matches from individual players, but it wasn't pieced together enough. The performance just wasn't there on the ice for some reason. David has won two world titles, so what is the difference between a Winter Olympics and a World Championships? You're playing the same people in the same environment. I can't figure it out."

It is the second time Murdoch, Byers and MacDonald have suffered Olympic agony after losing to America in the bronze play-off match in Turin four years ago.

After those Games, UK Sport trebled the funding given to curling in the four-year cycle to Vancouver to £1.136m. There was also significant financial support provided by Sportscotland and the Scottish Institute of Sport.

Such funding enabled Murdoch and Byers to become full-time athletes, able to train for six days a week for the last two years, while the rest of the squad members were also able to solely focus on the Winter Olympics from the summer of 2009.

There was a whole host of support staff, too, to make sure Britain were properly prepared, including physiotherapists, psychologists, analysts, and strength and conditioning coaches, all overseen by performance director Derek Brown.

"The funding, the preparation and build-up was spot on," added GB men's curling coach David Hay. "We can't fault any part of it."

So was it the team dynamics then? The men have been playing together for years, while the women had more than a year to prepare. Yet it looked as though there were times when Jackie Lockhart, a former world championship-winning skip competing in her fourth Winter Olympics, was ignoring calls made by skip Muirhead, 25 years her junior.

You sensed it wasn't always rosy in the men's camp either, with the microphones inside the arena picking up niggly comments here and there.

Muirhead would not reveal how well her team had gelled but admitted: "You're not going to be best buddies all of the time but you have to get on and work as a unit. You have to trust your team-mates."

Maybe GB's failings simply were down to bad luck - a few inches here and there.

"In our game against Switzerland, had one shot curled another inch then we would have been in the semi-final," said Murdoch. "And against Sweden in the 10th end, we over-swept my last shot. If it had curled another inch, I would have been standing here with a smile on my face."

But it wasn't to be and Martin shared in the huge disappointment.

"I had high hopes for both teams, believing they both could have won a medal," she stated. "It is gut-wrenching neither of them has made the semi final stages."


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