Cheryl Bernard certainly knows what’s at stake today. Win, and it’s gold for Canada in women’s curling. Lose, and it’s the bittersweet taste of silver. But just in case the skip does need a reminder, all she needs to do is look to her left (or her right, depending on which way she’s sliding). On the sheet at the far end of the arena, about twenty feet from where she’ll be battling for Olympic glory, is the medal podium. No matter what happens, Bernard will be standing there later tonight. On which step is the only question.
2:28 pm — Bernard and the rest of her rink have surfaced from the tunnel for their warm-up tosses, and the crowd certainly noticed. There is much applause and cow-bell tapping. It’s still more than 30 minutes before the gold-medal match, but the bleachers are filling up quickly—and each new arrival is trying hard to look more Canadian than everybody else. A simple hockey jersey just isn’t enough anymore. Ron Wolfe and Brad Hrycan, both from Saskatoon, are wearing red sweatpants, red and white wigs, Canadian flag capes, and maple-leaf shaped glasses. For the moment, they’ve taken off their red gloves. It’s easier to drink the beer that way.
3:03 pm — The bagpipers are finished belting, and the public address announcer is introducing the members of each rink. The roof nearly fell off when it was Bernard’s turn.
3:07 pm — Sweden goes first in end number one. The house is empty after six stones.
3:11 pm — Both rinks are trading hits and sticks. The famously raucous crowd is clearly on edge. Except for the odd “Let’s Go Canada,” there are some nervous faces inside the Vancouver Olympic Centre. Two shots to go, and here comes Bernard.
3:14 pm — If Bernard is nervous, she’s not showing it. Her first shot of the day was a nice hit and stick, leaving one Canadian stone in the house. But Swedish skip Norberg answered right back, completing the exact same shot.
3:16 pm — Bernard knocks the Swedes out of the circle, and herself too. Canada keeps the hammer, it’s 0-0 after the first end.
3:29 pm — Swedish second Eva Lund just made a beautiful shot, sneaking her stone past a Canadian guard and nudging it next to her opponents’ rock in the house. Canadian second Susan O’Connor couldn’t match the magic. Advantage Sweden.
3:31 pm — Bring on Bernard! She lands her rock on the edge of the four-foot circle, Norberg can’t squeeze her last past a guard, and Canada’s about to score.
3:33 pm — Big opportunity blown. With one rock already closest to the centre and the hammer in hand, Bernard failed to draw it into the circle. 1-0 Canada. Should be 2-0.
3:39 pm — Some background here: The Bernard bunch slaughtered the Swedes in round robin play. The victory was such a lopsided affair that Canadian alternate Kristie Moore, who is almost six months pregnant, saw action in the ninth end. Picture a college basketball blowout, when the bench-warming senior plays a few seconds of garbage time with his team up 35 points. Don’t think for a second the Swedish squad has forgotten that.
3:44 pm — If the Swedish squad loses, don’t be surprised if the skipper blames the crowd. As she set up for her first shot of the third end, more than one fan was yelling her name in that long, drawn-out kind of way. “Norrrrrr-berrrrrrg.” When Bernard’s up, it’s all hush-hush.
4:01 pm — Big shot coming up for Bernard. She has to squeeze her hammer through an army of Swede rocks or lose two more.
4:03 pm — Beauty! The shot, I mean. 2-2. (Should be 3-2 Canada, but I’ll stop saying that now. Unless it proves costly later.)
4:07 pm — Best heckle of the day so far from Canadian fans: “Jeepers, creepers, where’d you get those sweepers!? Jeepers, creepers, where’d you get those girls!?” Jeepers, creepers, where’s the beer guy?
4:14 pm — There’s a great moment in every end when Bernard, after inspecting the house, glides back to the other side of the sheet to delivery her shot. The crowd goes bananas. How she doesn’t slip is rather impressive.
4:16 pm — Drama time. Bernard just hit a beautiful draw into the house with her final rock, nicking the Swedish stone. But it’s not clear which one’s closer. Norberg then proceeded to draw the hammer closer than both of them. So it’s one point for sure for the Swedes. Maybe two. Here comes the measuring guy.
4:18 pm — The Swedish rock is a smidgen closer. You can tell because only the people with yellow and blue flags are cheering. Two huge points for Team Norberg, putting them up 4-2 with five ends to go. That podium suddenly looks much larger.
4:30 pm — A reader just asked a good question—proof positive that Olympic curling is attracting new fans (even if some of them are just tuning in to see Cheryl Bernard). In the first end, when Bernard used her hammer to knock out the Swedish stone, why didn’t she hit and stick so Canada scored a point? Answer: she would rather keep the hammer for the next end than score one measly single. See, if a team scores, they give up the hammer, and at this high level of curling, it’s pretty pointless to use the hammer to score just one. Better to keep it and try for more in the next end.
4:34 pm — Bernard just made a beautiful draw to the button, but Norberg didn’t waste any time knocking it out. The Swedes now have four stones in the house. Canada has none. Here comes Cheryl with the hammer.
4:38 pm — Bernard is really looking comfortable now. Avoiding a disaster, she curled her stone into the middle of house, knocked out the closest Swede, and stuck around for one. Sweden 4, Canada 3. Seventh end.
4:53 pm — The fans screamed “Shoot em up, Cheryl!” and “You can do it, Cheryl!” So she did it, knocking a Swedish stone from the four-foot circle and leaving three Canadian rocks all by themselves. Norberg ponders.
4:57 pm — What a seventh end! Norberg silences the crowd with a gorgeous hit and stick, and then Bernard comes right back with her own, leaving two Canadian rocks in the four-foot. Norberg’s hammer falls short, and Canada steals two to take a 5-4 lead. A gold-medal match, indeed.
5:07 pm — I had to get a beer. Everyone else is having one.
5:10 pm — The eighth end was a repeat of the first, except it was Norberg, not Bernard, clearing out the house. No points for either side. Sweden keeps the hammer heading into the second-last end. Oh, and someone topped the “jeepers, creepers” chant. As Bernard shot her final rock of the end, someone yelled: “Get in the hole!” Some other people thought it was funny.
5:26 pm — After the crowd urged each other to “Shhhh,” Bernard made a zinger, knocking out the Swedish rock in the house and leaving to Canadians behind. Norberg has the hammer. Here it comes.
5:28 pm — Norberg was a little too hard. She knocked out one of Bernard’s rocks—but sent hers out, too. One Canadian stone left in the house equals one big steal. Canada 6, Sweden 4. Final end.
5:31 pm — “More cowbell!” someone screams. Cowbells ring.
5:35 pm — Ladies and gentlemen, the Bernard squad can taste it. We’re in the tenth end, the Canucks are up by two, and one fan just yelled: “I love you, Cheryl!” He’s not the only one.
5:38 pm — Bernard is about to take what should be her final two shots of the Olympics. The crowd went nuts, then dead quiet.
5:44 pm — Nice shot. Norberg knocked a Canadian stone out, put hers somewhat behind the guard, and left Bernard with a little work to do. Here we go.
5:43 pm — Bernard blew it. She couldn’t knock the yellow stone out, and Norberg hit and stuck for two. We’re tied at six going to extra ends.
5:52 pm — It goes without saying that the crowd is a tad deflated. The gold was there. If it’s any consolation, Bernard does have the hammer in the eleventh end.
6:01 pm — The Swedes just took a timeout to talk strategy. As they huddled with their coach, the crowd tried to be as noisy as possible.
6:06 pm — Norberg just pulled off another gorgeous hit and stick, leaving Swedish stones in the four-foot circle. Bernard with the hammer. It all comes down to this. She needs to move both stones.
6:07 — Bernard couldn’t do it. Game over. Sweden Gold, Canada Silver.