• Curling EM2021


Back in 1994, the curling players following many complications were not invited in for the Winter Olympic Games at Lillehammer, much because of practical capacity problems to arrange curling in addition to ice hockey. (Curling was in the official program for the Olympic Winter Games first time back in 1924. The second try following this came not until 1998, although it had been a demonstration sport in both 1988 and 1992.) The European Championship however was played at Lillehammer back in 1990. It is truly a pleasure now in 2021 to see a big international curling championship taking place at Lillehammer – in an area which was built for the ice hockey contest in 1994.

Entering the tribune in a curling rink for the very first time, after following curling via television and internet for many years, turned out to be a very interesting experience. First it appeared a bit more chaotic than I expected. From the start there was less sound than I expected from the other spectators, but on the other hand it was even more sound than I expected from the players – as ten teams tried to communicate about five different matches at the same time and in about eight different languages. Only some 30–40 spectators were present at the start. This was reported «not an unusual situation when we are playing outside of Canada». Still the number of present spectators was a pity – for the players as well as the spectators. Within half an hour I had made my first important conclusion: Curling definitely is one of the sports which is much more interesting to follow live in the area! The European Championship concept, with all ten competing teams playing at the same time, appears very fair for the teams and very interesting (if sometimes a bit intensive) for the spectators.

I should mention that the number om spectators increased somewhat during the morning round in the women´s top group, and probably passed 200 when the Norwegian home team a few hours later on played their first match in the men´s top group. Still many more Norwegian curling fans within this week should use the chance to follow curling from ringside.

FOTO: Samuel Andersen

The atmosphere all of the time was very friendly among those present. Obviously players as well as spectators were happy to meet for a long expected international championship, following two years that due to the covid restrictions have been very demanding also for the curling sport. In 2020 the European Championships had to be cancelled. Although the World Championship was played this spring it was a reduced version, with face masks for the players and without spectators on the tribune. At Lillehammer this week finally we have an international curling championship played under fairly normal circumstances again, and this is a great relief for everyone present.

First pass: Women´s Group A round 1

First round in the women´s tournament started at nine this morning, and became an intensive and entertaining battle lasting two hours and 45 minutes. All five matches were decided within the ordinary ten ends. None of the matches had a sensational winner, although one might be considered a surprise, and several of the underdogs succeeded to shake the favourites for a while.

Sweden as the current European Champion and Olympic Champion was a given favourite against the Czech Republic team. Sweden became more or less an odds-on favourite after the Czech Republic missed their final stone in the first end, allowing the Swedes to steal a point. The Czech team including the skip appeared a bit nervous, and barely succeeded to equalize in the second end. Sweden despite a promising position however failed to win more than 1–0 in the third end. The match appeared more or less lost for the Czech team after they made another last stone blunder in the fourth end, allowing Sweden to steal another point in the fourth end.

FOTO: Samuel Andersen

Gradually improving their play, the Czech team in both the fifth and sixth end decided to blank the score instead of allowing the Swedes to take over the last stone advantage (which in curling is about as essential as the serve advantage in tennis, and often is mentioned as «the hammer»). Sweden appeared fairly satisfied after forcing their opponents to take a 1–0 win in seventh end, leaving Sweden up 3–2 with the hammer. Sweden in turn was forced to accept a narrow 1–0 win in the eight end and was under some pressure during the ninth, but their 32 year old skip Anna Hasselborg demonstrated her class on the final two stones – again limiting the Czech plus to 1–0. Up 4–3 with the hammer advantage in the last end, Sweden pulled the strike and just tried to get rid of all the stones of their opponents. As the Czech team failed to come up with any disturbing plan, Sweden in the end had a safe 5–3 win. This in short was the most greedy match of the round, with a total of eights points and a maximum score of 1–0. I had the feeling that Sweden was never really in danger of losing this match, but still it was a working day win neither strenghtening or weakening much their position as the main favourite for the gold medals. The Czech team improved a lot following a shaky start and lost with honour.

Estonia as underdog against Germany somehow had the opposite development of the Czech team, as the start gave some hope for an exciting match. True enough Estonia blundered with their last stone in the first end, allowing Germany to steal a point. Second and third end however both were tight and both resulted in a 1–0 win for Estonia. After Germany stumbled with their hammer in the third end, Estonia went on to win a millimetre struggle and took over the lead at 2–1. That win however turned out to be the beginning of the end for the Estonian team in this match, as they more or less cramped while Germany later made efficient use of their chances. The Germans took over the lead again by a sound 2–0 win in end four, and moved ahead after stealing another point in end five.

Foto: Samuel Andersen

The situation for Estonia turned critical as they again blew the last stone advantage in the sixth and seventh end, and after stealing three more points Germany reached a very comfortable 7–2. Estonia finally succeded to use the hammer in the eight end, but a 1–0 plus in this situation of course was much too little and too late. The German efficiency had a jackpot in end nine, with a 6–0 win. Down 3–13 the Estonians of course resigned before the final end – as even the maximum 8–0 win now would be insufficient!

Denmark on the other hand had a nightmare start against Italy. Although the Italians had the hammer in the first end, 0–2 was a set back. The Danish team failed to hit back as the second end was a 0–0 draw. Denmark played ambitious in the third end and first appeared to have promising chances, but Italy made the much better final stones and moved further ahead with another 2–0 win. The Danish team following this set back appeared shaky from the start of end four, allowing Italy to steal another point and reach a stunning 5–0 lead. While Denmark finally woke up Italy for some moments fell asleep and went from 5–0 to 5–3 during the fifth end. Although the Danish team came closer to their top level later on, they were unable fully to recover following sound play from the Italians. Italy wasted a chance to win more than 1–0 with the hammer in end six, but Denmark in turn also failed to make more out of a rather open seventh end. The match for some minutes appeared nearly exciting as Italy missed their final stone in the eight end, allowing Denmark to steal a point and reduce the margin to 5–6. Both teams spent a lot of time at this stage, but Italy made the better use of it, and more or less decided the match by winning 2–0 in end nine. The match had a slightly confusing finish as the Danish skip kept her second last stone for too long, got a red light and resigned as the stone was removed. There was no conflict in the situation and it made no practical difference for the outcome.

Foto: Samuel Andersen

Scotland traditionally is among the great powers in the curling world. Following somewhat disappointing results from 2021, the merited team of Eve Muirhead was not an obvious favourite against the unpredictable and rising team Kovaleva from Russia. Seen in retrospect the first end somehow was the decisive one in this match, as Scotland used the hammer to reach a two point lead and later kept the match under reasonable control. Russia won only 1–0 with the hammer in the second end, and later this rather stable match moved in between +1 and +3 seen from a Scottish point of view. Scotland came close to another two point win in the third end, but a strong last stone from the Russian skip limited their deficit to one point. Fourth and fifth end both saw one points win for the team with the hammer advantage. Then the match was more or less over as Scotland in the sixth end succeeded to steal a point and reach 5–2. Following three fairly normal ends with a one point win for the last stone team, Scotland after nine ends had reach a very safe situation with a 6–4 lead and the hammer. They landed safely on a 7–4 win following another reasonable 1–0 in the last end. Scotland confirmed that they might still be a hot candidate for the final, while the question about whether Russia is a candidate for the medals remained open after this result.

Switzerland against Turkey meanwhile was a rapidly changing and very entertaining match. Not showing any respect for the World champions, the young Turks introduced themselves by stealing a point in the first end. Switzerland thanks to an accurate hammer stone won 2–0 and took over the lead in the second end, but the Turks hit back with a 2–0 win in the third. Their 25 year old skip Dilsat Yildiz was under considerable pressure before her last stone in the fifth end, but saved two points and a sensational 5–3 lead for her team. With Turkey playing fast and strong, Switzerland felt the pressure and lagged behind on the clock. Switzerland winning 1–0 in the sixth end actually was good news from a Turkish point of view, as they were ahead on the scoreboard with the hammer advantage for end seven.

Many tight curling matches are decided by one key stone, and this match probably was one of them. Seventh end for Turkey became an uphill struggle, in which Switzerland gradually built up a disturbing pressure. Yildiz still had the chance to save a 1–0 win and a two point lead with an accurate last stone. Probably feeling a lot of pressure from the match situation she instead blundered, allowing the favourites to steal four points and switch the match from 4–5 to 8–5! As the Turkey team still was shaken, Switzerland efficiently snatched another point in end eight and increased the lead to 9–5. Turkey actually hit hard back with a three point win in the second last end. The much more experienced team from Switzerland still had a winning position one point up with the hammer in end ten, and eventually won this firework match 10–8.

Foto: Samuel Andersen

First pass: Men´s Group A round 1

The first round in the men´s tournament somehow was more stable to follow. Three matches were more or less decided after one and a half hour, while the other two remained tense dramas all the way.

We should probably not make this even more painful for our curling friends from Denmark by writing too many details about their 1–9 loss against Italy. The Italian sucess on the opening day continued as their team in the men´s class was up 5–0 after three ends – a few hours after the Italian women team reached the same score against the same opponent country! The first end was a sound and open 0–0 draw. Later everything went wrong for the Danish team, while the enthusiastic Italian team instructively used their chances to win 3–0 in the second end and 2–0 in the third as well as the fourth. The Danish team resigned as soon as the rules allowed them to do after six ends, and reportedly took the emergency exit from the curling rink afterwards. Rumours that this Italian team might be a hot candidate for medals definitely were strenghtened by this match, but Denmark anyway need to improve their play soon to survive in this group.

Finland on the other hand introduced themselves as a hard working and down to earth team, winning 1– 0 in all the first three ends against an apparently nervous German team. The Germans finally got a score in fourth end, but after winning 1–0 again in the fifth, the Finns were happy forcing their opponents to take a 1–0 win in end seven. The seventh end was an uphill fight for the Finns, but they made a good practical decision when finding a safe road to a 0–1 loss instead of risking to lose 0–3 or even 0–4. Finland following this still was ahead with 4–3 and kept the hammer stone. As Germany had to run risks to keeps stone in play, Finland´s experienced skip Kalle Kiiskinen efficently decided the match by a maginificant double take out – winning four points. Down 3–8 with only two ends left, the Germans immediately resigned. This might have been a very important win for the Finns, as none of these two teams can feel safe in the A group.

Scotland and Sweden no way are in danger of losing their place in the A group. To the contrary, they played each other in the World Championship final a few months ago and many present people predicts an new final between them at Lillehammer. Their first end meeting however became a strange disappointment from a Swedish point of view. The legendary team captain, 36 year old Niklas Edin, is one of the kings of curling and definitely the king of the European Curling Championships after winning seven gold medals in between 2009 and 2019. His position as the best curling skip in Europe now is under pressure from the nine year younger Bruce Mouat, and the new Scottish star won their duel today. Although the Scottish win was no sensation, the way it happened was at least close to sensational. Following a careful 0–0 in the first end, Scotland took the lead 2–0 after Edin missed his last stone in the second end. The Scottish team succeeded to steal a point in the third end and later never looked back, leading 5–1 after the fifth end and 6–2 when the Swedes resigned after the seventh end. Mouat and his Scottish team got a very convincing revenge for their loss to Sweden in a tight World Championship final and obviously are in the run for a gold medal. Edin and his very experienced Swedish team no way should be counted out, despite this rather lame first appearence at Lillehammer. Team Edin also had a slow start before winning the World Championship this year, and they have a long history of improving just in time for the decisive championship matches.

Czech Republic versus the Netherlands was a much more exciting match, following an open start with 0–0 after the first end and 1–1 after the thirds. Netherlands were the favourite, but lagged behind as they after winning 1–0 in the fourth end lost 0–2 in the fifth. The Czech had a blackout and lost 0–3 in the sixth end, leaving the Netherlands up 5–3 with four ends left. This was expected to be a turning point. The hard fighting Czech team however used the hammer to hit back, equalizing the score to 5– 5 by a nice draw shot on the final stone of the seventh end. Netherlands under pressure wasted their chance on the last stone in the eight end, allowing the Czech team to steal a point and retake the lead with 5–4 after the eight end. From their outsider position, the Czech team probably were well satisfied to lose the ninth end 0–1 – as they could then enter the final end with 5–5 on the scoreboard and the hammer advantage. As Czech republic used their chance to win 6–5 following one final mistake from the Dutch team, this all taken together was a slighly unexpected but no way undeserved win for the Czech team.

Foto: ECC2021

Most of the spectators this afternoon after all came to see Norway and team Walstad playing their first match against Switzerland. This might have been a key match for the semi final chances of both teams, and it was a very tense match which became the last one to finish. After the first four ends all had given a 1–0 win for the team with the hammer (which Norway had the luck to get in the first end), team Walstad moved ahead by gradually increasing the pressure to win 2–0 in the fifth end. The initiative however later turned in favour of the more experienced Suisse team and their 30 year old skip Benoit Schwarz. Switzerland failed to get more than one point from a promising pressure in the sixth end, but Norway in turn won no more than 1–0 in the seventh. Switzerland following a strong finish from Schwarz won 2–0 in the eight end, balancing the score at 5–5.

Foto: ECC2021

Ninth end was a heavyweight positional struggle with many stones involved, and both teams spent a lot of time to handle it. Switzerland eventually succeeded to steal a point and at 6–5 they suddenly was in the lead for the first time in the match. The outcome still was wide open as Norway kept the hammer advantage for the tenth end – while the pressure increased further as both teams had only three minutes left on the clock. This might well have been one out of the few curling matches in which the clock became decisive. Schwarz first hesitated for too long and then had to play a far from trivial last stone with only seconds left. His clock stopped just in time at 0.02, but the stone stopped at the wrong place from a Swiss point of view – leaving Walstad with an open route to win 2–0 by an accurate take out. The home crowd obviously were very well satisfied as he succeeded to do this, still with 37 seconds left on the clock.

Third pass: Women´s Group A round 2

Following the first round play and results, Scotland entered the rink as a big favourite against Denmark and Switzerland as an about as big favourite against the Czech Republic. Sweden was a favourite, but not a given winner against Russia, after both teams had a somewhat shaky first end. Although both Turkey and Estonia had lost their matches in the first round, Turkey had the far better chances then and now was a favourite in their internal meeting. Italy and Germany both had won with a safe margin in the first end, and the match between them was considered rather open.

Scotland under the inspiring leadership of Eve Muirhead (yelling «HARD» even more loud to her hard sweeping teammates this round), continued their strong play and soon established a strong grip against Denmark. Muirhead in the first end decided to keep the hammer with 0–0 instead of winning 1–0. This decision worked out well as she instead won 2–0 in the second end. Denmark first had promising chances in the second end, but after wasting her second stone their skip Madeleine Dupont had to play accurate on the final stone only to win one point. Muirhead by an accurate finish saved another 2–0 for her team in the fourth end, and the match was more or less decided as Scotland got the help needed to steal one more point and reach 5–1 in the fifth end. The rest was a solid transport from the Scottish team, and Denmark very understandably resigned as they were down 2–8 with only two ends left.

Switzerland also was in control following another nervous start from the Czech team, leading to three points in the first end and one more point in the second end. The Prague team and their skip Anna Kubeskova again improved somewhat later on, but Silvana Tirinzoni and her world champion team went on to win 8–3 after the eight end. Scotland and Switzerland following the first two ends obviously are very strong candidates for the semi finals. Denmark and Czech Republic for the upcoming rounds will have to focus upon winning enough matches to save their place in the A group for 2022.

Estonia is the third team having lost both their two first matches, despite another fairly promising start. Although Turkey started up with the hammer advantage, Estonia won the first end 2–0 after a finale stone blunder. Turkey´s 25 year old skip Dilsat Yildiz no way lost her confidence or creativity, and equalised the score at 2–2 with a solid final stone in the second end. Estonia kept up their play much better than in the first round, leading 3–2 after the fourth end and equalizing again to 4–4 in the sixth. Still Turkey played much better and more confident in the second half of this match. Winning 2–0 in both the seventh and ninth end, they reached a very promising 8–5 on the scoreboard before the final end. Estonia had the hammer and made a brave try to win it 3–0, but Turkey had it all under control. Three points behind without any stones left in the house center, Estonia resigned without using their two last stones.

Italy and Germany meanwhile played a heavyweight positional battle in which both teams spent much time. Italy made a solid start and was up 2–1 after the fourth end, but a precise German take out leading to 3–0 in the fifth end became a decisive turning point in this match. The Italian team later failed to find back their accuracy, allowing Germany to steal one point in the sixth as well as the the seventh end. The final chance for Italy probably was the last stone of the seventh end, when an Italian miss left the German stone some millimetres closer to the center. Down 2–6 following this, a 2–0 plus score for Italy in the ninth end was too little and too late. Up 6–4 with the hammer, Germany demonstrated no intenions whatsoever to make the tenth end any more interesting than neccessary, and so Italy used about the last chance to resign. This might have been a very important match for both teams, and Germany winning their second match too are in the run for the semi finals. Italy obviously are in a worse position after the second match, but whatever the outcome this will be a very interesting team to follow on the road to the Olympic Winter Games in Cortina 2026. Two of the players in the team are still teenagers, the average age is a remarkable 21, and Stefania Consantini at age 22 is the youngest skip in this group.

The almost epic drama of this evening was a tense battle between Sweden and Russia, finally getting a winner after more than three hours. The match was remarkably tight all the way, the score being 0–0 after the first end, 1–0 in favour of Sweden after the second, 2–1 in favour of Russia after the third, 2–2 after the fourth, 3–2 in favour of Russia after the fifth, and 3–3 after the sixth. Russia had a strong pressure in the fourth end, but two great shots from the Swedish skip Anna Hasselborg saved Sweden then. The seventh end however put the Olympic Champions under heavyweight pressure. The 28 year old skip Alina Kovaleva finished off that end with an ice cold draw shot, leaving two Russian stones in the house center and making the score 5–3! Sweden true enough got a promising chance to level the score in the eight end, but Hasselborg just missed it with her final stone – leaving Russia up 5–4 with the hammer advantage.

In the ninth end Russia tried to get rid off all the Swedish stones, which was of of course a very understandable strategy following the scoreboard situation. Russia in the end had an easy draw shot to reach a 6–4 lead before the tenth end, but decided instead to stay at 5–4 and keep the hammer advantage. The Russian´s waiting and eliminating strategy however backfired in the tenth end, as Sweden got the time needed to place one stone in the house center and several guards ahead of it. The Swedes following this stole a point, balanced the score to 5–5 and made this the first match to reach an eleventh end.

Russia probably considered this a fully acceptable worse case scenario, as they kept the hammer advantage for the decisive extra end. The situation still remained very tight, and both teams under some time pressure had a timeout during the final minutes of the match. Russia´s strategy to eliminate stones and keep the position open appeared dangerous as Sweden used their chances fairly well, and had the two best stones in the center house before the eight and final stone from Russia. The Russian strategy still worked out in the end – as Alina Kovaleva succeeded to make a great shot in her last stone of the match, taking out one of the Swedish stones and placing the Russian stone some centimeter better than the remaining Swedish stone!

The fight for the four places in the semi finals of the women´s tournament became even harder following this, as Sweden and Russia now both are in the group of teams having won one match and lost one. As the defending European Champion and Olympic Champion lost their match in the second end, Germany, Scotland and Switzerland now are the only undefeated teams in this group. We look forward to a very exciting continuation tomorrow afternoon, when Sweden will enter the rink against Scotland and Germany against Switzerland!

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