Geum Yi

Korean curling team hits Great Wall

February 14, 2014
South Korea's skip Kim Jisun, front, does not like what sees. (Yonhap)

Korea defeated Japan and Russia, but fell to China on Friday. (Yonhap)

By Jung Min-ho

Korea’s female curlers lost to China 11-3 after their worst performance at the Ice Cube Curling Center, Friday (KST), moving further away from their hope of reaching the semifinals on their first Olympic appearance.

Buoyed by a win over Russia hours earlier, Korea looked to establish a bridgehead to the semifinal over China but failed to beat the world No. 5 due to a lack of strategy and too many mistakes.

China went ahead in the second end, where it scored three, after giving up the first end without any points. Korea, the world No. 10, cut the deficit to 3-2 in the second end, but the tension didn’t last long.

In the fifth end, China added three points as Korea started to lose its concentration and determination to win. After scoring just one more point in the next end, Korea fell to 11-3, the biggest loss so far at the Sochi Games.

Korea needs to win all its remaining four games to advance to the medal round with a record of two wins and three losses.

Tied with Japan, as of Friday 10 p.m., Korea is ranked seventh, with an upcoming game against Britain at 2 p.m. It remains to be seen whether Korea will be able to upset the world No. 2.

Previously, Korea defeated Russia 8-4 Friday (KST) at the same venue.

Bouncing back from a bitter loss to the world No. 1 Sweden on Wednesday, skip Kim Ji-sun scored a critical three points with Korea’s final stone in the seventh end after taking out a Russian stone from the very center to seal Korea’s second win. Korea defeated Japan in the opener of the round-robin setup before losing consecutively to Switzerland and Sweden.

“Team morale is high,” Kim said after the game. “With teammates doing a great job, I felt less pressured in my turn, which led to a good result.”

Um Min-ji replaced Shin Mi-sung, who made some errors at critical moments that collapsed Korea in a 7-4 loss to Sweden. There wasn’t any major strategy change for Korea but less mistakes certainly helped its win over Russia.

Russia went ahead 1-0 in the first end, but Korea came storming back in the second after scoring two points.

The two teams kept the tension alive before Kim’s critical shot in the seventh end put the result beyond doubt.

Getting more popular

Win or not, the Sochi Olympics will be memorable for the women’s curling team to many Korean fans.

The names of the team members top the list of “most searched words” on Korea’s largest search engine, Naver, every time they have a game, with questions about the sport’s rules.

With some of Korea’s medal hopefuls, including speed skaters Mo Tae-bum and Lee Seung-hoon, failing to reach the podium in their expected events, the curling team is filling the vacuum of celebrity glamour.

The Korean women’s performance has so far been remarkable, given that only 700 athletes are registered with the Korea Curling Federation. According to Canadian Curling Association, there are approximately 1,000 affiliated curling clubs, 14 provincial and territorial associations and close to one million Canadians who play the sport each year.

Despite the lack of athletes and hardware, Korea surprised the world at the 2012 world championships by beating Vancouver Olympic champions Sweden 9 to 8 and made it to the playoffs, in which they settled for fourth place.

Now Korea is proving the upset didn’t come just by luck.

After Britain, Korea will face Denmark, the United States and Canada, which has made it to the podium at every Olympics since the Nagano Games.