If you’re wondering what if feels like to win a gold medal in Paralympic wheelchair curling, you’ll need to ask a Canadian.
Team Canada put on a clinic against Russia on Saturday, hammering their arch-rivals 8-3 in the gold medal match at the Ice Cube Curling Center to win the medal for the third straight time since the sport was added to the Paralympic Winter Games in 2006.
Skip Jim Armstrong and his rink of Ina Forrest, Dennis Thiessen and Sonja Gaudet all contributed key shots in the victory. All four Canadians finished with over 60 per cent accuracy on their shots, led by Forrest and Gaudet with 88 per cent and 85 per cent, respectively. Gaudet – the opening ceremony flag-bearer – is the only curler to have played on the 2006 and 2010 teams.
"It's tremendous," said Armstrong, of Canada's win. "It's been a long week but we played well today. It was probably our best game of the tournament.
"We got a couple of breaks early and as we learned this week, if you have to chase, it's a tough game."
The silver medal represents Russia’s first medal in wheelchair curling.
Canada and Russia went into the final as the last two world champions in the sport. Canada is the current title holder, winning in 2013, while Russia won the crown in 2012. Canada beat Russia 5-4 in the round-robin match earlier in the event.
After compiling a 7-2 record in round-robin play, Canada advanced to the final by defeating China 5-4 in a very tense semifinal earlier in the day.
Russia, meanwhile, breezed into the final with an 8-1 record in the round robin and a 13-4 thrashing of Great Britain in its own semifinal.
The comeback quartet
As has been the case so often during these Paralympics, Canada needed to come from behind against its opponent. In the opening end, with two Russian stones in the house, Armstrong could only remove one of them with his final throw. Holding the hammer, Russian skip Andrey Smirnov only needed to land his final rock in the wide open house to score an extra point, and he came through to give his team a 2-0 lead.
In the second end, Canada established a guard just outside the top of the circle, and then deftly positioned a rock in the house behind it. After Russian third Alexander Shevchenko failed to knock out the sitting Canadian stone, Forrest, the Canadian third, added a second stone to the house. Smirnov needed to respond with a high-quality shot, and delivered in the form of a double takeout, but Armstrong used his last shot to knock out his opponent’s stone and cut the deficit in half.
Canada kept the momentum going in the next frame, securing a stone close to the button and setting up a cluster of guards high above the house. Russia couldn’t manage enough curl on its final rocks to get around the barrier, allowing Canada to tally another point and knot things at 2-2.
The turning point came in the fourth end, when Canadian second Thiessen placed two rocks on the edge of the house, forcing Russia to play catch-up. With Canada still lying two late in the end, Smirnov completely missed a Canadian stone sitting in the 4-foot ice, allowing the defending champions to steal two points and grab a 4-2 advantage.
After tacking on another point in the fifth end for a 5-2 lead, the match became a runaway for Canada in the sixth end. Things began to unravel for the Russians when Shevchenko made a critical error on final stone and missed the takeout attempt completely. Smirnov did his best to help out his teammate by placing his second-last stone on the button, but Armstrong disposed of it with a precision takeout, leaving three Canadian stones in the house. Smirnov followed with another miss, giving Canada an 8-2 lead and putting the game out of reach.
Russia managed a single point in the seventh end, but conceded defeat midway through the final end when it became mathematically impossible to catch their Canadian opponents.
In the third-place match taking place on the adjacent rink, Great Britain rebounded from its lopsided loss to Russia and took the bronze medal with a 7-3 win over China. It was the second podium finish for Great Britain in wheelchair curling, as the country collected a silver medal in Turin in 2006.