GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) If the Korean women’s curling team thought winning an Olympic silver medal was fun, wait until they get their mobile phones back.
The ”Garlic Girls” who sparked a national phenomenon in the quirky sport with the sweeping and the shouting lost to Sweden 8-3 in Sunday’s Olympic final, a result that only slightly diminished the excitement in the host country.
The hubbub was so great , in fact, that their coach took away their cellphones to shield them from any pressure that might come from all the attention in a country that had no real curling tradition before being selected to host the 2018 Winter Games.
”It is the first medal” for Korea, skip Kim Eun-jung said. ”We have been through a lot, so that we could blaze a trail.”
Fans filled a high school gym to watch a livestream of the gold medal match in the team’s home county, which had previously been best known as the garlic-growing capital of the peninsula. The Korean matches in the Gangneung Curling Venue were also packed, and fans cheered for their every shot – sometimes mistakenly.
”We are just so happy that the crowd – it’s been filled out every game and that’s such a cool feeling for a curler,” Swedish skip Anna Hasselborg said. ”They didn’t cheer for us today, but that’s OK. We tried to use their energy as our energy.”
Sweden took control of the match by stealing a point in back-to-back ends – the fourth and the fifth – even though Korea had the last-rock advantage known as the hammer. After Korea mustered just one point in the sixth, Hasselborg delivered a takeout on her final rock of the seventh to score three points and open a 7-2 lead.
The Koreans picked up one in the eighth, but they couldn’t keep the Swedes from scoring in the ninth. Kim shook hands to concede defeat, then took off her iconic owlish glasses and wiped tears away from her eyes.
Noting that her name ”Eun” means ”silver” in Korean, Kim said: ”Many people made a joke I needed to change my name.”
One popular suggestion: ”Geum,” for ”gold.”
With King Carl XVI Gustaf in the stands for the second day in a row, the Swedes erased some of the sting from the men’s final, when their top-seeded team was upset by the Americans . The Swedish women are among the sport’s dominant powers, with five medals – three gold – in the six Olympics since curling joined the Winter Games.
”To fight against (nations such as) Canada, that has a million active curling players, while we in Sweden have about 4,000, it shouldn’t be possible,” the King said. ”But they made it.”
Once again, curling enjoyed its quadrennial moment in the sun, with fans around the world tuning in to see the sliding and the sweeping and the clattering rocks. No one – not even the disappointed Canadians , who failed to medal in either the men’s or women’s event – took to the sport more passionately than the hosts.
Korea had never qualified for an Olympic curling tournament before Sochi in 2014. Kim said she could feel the excitement build.
”The support was different from the start and today,” she said.
And it’s not just in Korea.
In the United States, fans watched in the middle of the night to see John Shuster’s team beat Sweden to win gold – just the second Olympic curling medal in American history. The actor Mr. T and football players like Aaron Rodgers and J.J. Watt reached out on social media, giving the curlers respect as athletes that they sometimes struggle for amid all of the jokes about brooms and beers.
In Pyeongchang, curling was the busiest sport; from the first match of the new mixed doubles discipline – a day and a half before the lighting of the cauldron – to the end of the women’s final, there were 18 straight days of competition, some with as many as four matches in each of three sessions per day.
Hasselborg’s team earned its first Olympic medal; a different Swedish foursome won in Turin and Vancouver. Coach Maria Prytz was on the team that won silver four years ago in Sochi.
”Just thinking about this journey almost makes me want to cry,” Hasselborg said. ”To perform the way we did today, I’m crazy proud.
”But It’s not the end of a journey. It’s a journey that just got started. I’m overwhelmed that I got to do it with this team,” she said. ”We’re having the time of our lives.”
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