You've been waiting for it. Pining, even. And it's finally here: the playoffs for curling medals. You can stop booing Team USA now.
(All times Vancouver)
Men's tiebreaker: Great Britain vs. Sweden, 2 p.m. — We make a big deal out of how the skips shoot (as we should) … but honestly, every stone is important, as missed shots in the frontend domino into tricker, more precise necessity out of the leader. The guy to watch (if NBC chooses to show the WHOLE FREAKING END) is Great Britain second Pete Smith, who is dead last among seconds in shooting (76 percent). Look at the win-loss splits in Smith's curling percentages:
Six wins: 81.8 percent, worst: 76 percent
Four losses: 70.25 percent, best: 75 percent
It may start and end with him. But The Team Formerly Known As Scotland has the experience (two World Championships) needed to get into the eventual disembowelment round by Canada. Great Britain 5, Sweden 3
Women's semifinal: Sweden vs. China, 9 a.m. — What you're going to see in this game is a passing of the torch. Anette Norberg and Sweden won gold in Torino as well as a couple of world championships along the way. It's kind of a Dream Team based out of sleepy little Härnösand, Sweden.
But have you seen these Chinese women play? Jesus on a hammer. The only team to actually be paid full time to curl (by their own Olympic-loving country, natch), these are the only women to beat Canada in this tournament, and they are so technically sound that I have a difficult time seeing any other result. China 7, Sweden 5
Women's semifinal: Canada vs. Switzerland, 9 a.m. — This could've easily been the gold medal game. And in some ways, it should be. Switzerland's Mirjam Ott is the only curler with two Olympic medals — both silver (2002 as vice and 2006 as skip).
Unfortunately the runner-up trifecta will not be seen in the Alps. Canadian ringleader Cheryl Bernard has been better than any other skip, but perhaps vice Susan O'Connor has been more impressive. And second Carolyn Darbyshire might be the best second in the field. And on and on. Canada 6, Switzerland 4
Men's semifinal: Canada vs. Great Britain (or Sweden), 2 p.m – I could go forever on the Canadian juggernaught during these Olympics. And I will:
• Six ends have been worth four or more points. Four of those were done by Canada, including both five-enders.
• Each team gets two timeouts per game to stop their clock and discuss a tricky shot. All other teams took between seven and 15 cumulative timeouts. Canada took two. Just two. Charlie Bucket's teacher must be furious.
• Lead Ben Hebert and Second Marc Kennedy are tied among their peers for first in curling percentages. John Morris tops all vices with an 83 percent accuracy.
• Only five times has a team scored on Canada without the last rock advantage. That is a tournament best.
• Six times Canada allowed more than a point. That, too, is tops in the Olympics.
• Canada scored 75 total points and allowed just 36. Both of those are … yep.
• Kevin Martin really, really wants this one. Back in 2002 he took silver because his last shot in the final against Norway sailed heavy by an inch. (Aside: I love the comparison the Associated used back then to inform a curling-ignorant society: "Think of Tiger Woods standing over a three-inch putt or Jeff Hornacek wiping his cheek at the foul line." Of all clutch people in the world, how did Hornacek get such a reference? I know the games were in Utah, but still.)
I hate to give this much disrespect to David Murdoch's team (or Sweden, if they make it), but Martin & Co. are stone cold rollin' right now. Canada 6, Great Britain 3
Men's semifinal: Norway vs. Switzerland, 2 p.m. — It's worth noting that Norway's famous crazypants have suckered in over 400,000 fans on Facebook, which is probably a larger group than that which actually understands the sport. This isn't a terrible thing. Nor is skip Thomas Ulsrud, who's actually outcurling Kevin Martin in terms of percentages (86 to 85).
Swiss skip Ralph Stöckli doesn't have a great percentage, but he has been lights out in his last four games (90 percent), and his entire team has been helping him out. In the end, however, you're going to want to see those pants in the final. Norway 5, Switzerland 4
The women's gold/bronze games are Saturday, and the men hand out the hardware Sunday. Which gives me a couple days to reflect on just how poorly these predictions could be.