GANGNEUNG, South Korea — “LET’S GO, CANADA! WOOOO!!!!!”
The shout spilled down from the near-sellout crowd at Gangneung Curling Centre, over the four rinks where the final matches of the ladies’ round-robin curling event were taking place. All four matches were at their midpoint break, five ends completed, and so the fan’s shout — loud, but polite, perfectly Canadian — echoed across the arena. (It’s a strange experience now to see a sporting event where there’s absolutely no music playing, but that’s a story for another day.)
We mention the Canadian gentleman’s shout of encouragement because, well, it was pretty much the only such shout of the entire evening. Canada had been eliminated from medal contention earlier in the day, you see, and so nobody much felt like celebrating anything. This match against the Olympic Athletes of Russia was a painful slide, a wrenching reminder of what could have been, one last twist of the knife.
Imagine the national crisis that would ensue if the United States didn’t even get to play for a medal in basketball. Mansions would burn, careers would end, NBA Twitter would detonate. Now you’ve got an idea of the level of upset we’re talking about with poor Canada here.
Ever since curling became an Olympic sport in the 1998 Games, Canada’s men’s team has gone silver, silver, gold, gold, gold. The women’s team? Gold, bronze, bronze, silver, gold. Ten Olympic opportunities ahead of this year, ten medals. The men’s team has already locked up a trip to the semifinals, and needs to win one of its final two matches to ensure a medal.
But for the ladies? Nothing. And it’s prompted what in Canada qualifies as a nationwide crisis.
“I think that what we all need to gain perspective on is that it’s so much bigger than winning a medal,” Canadian coach Adam Kingsbury said earlier in the day in a perfectly polite sound bite. “Of course, was that the goal to come here? No question. Does Canada have an incredible record in this game? Absolutely. But don’t forget that this game is growing internationally and all of these teams here have played remarkable against us. Being an Olympian is something that no one can ever take away from them.”
And then there was this, a postmatch interview with Canadian skip Rachel Homan that some fans felt was out of bounds:
— John Strowbridge (@johnstrow) February 21, 2018
By postgame-interview standards, that was pretty tame, but you can understand why Canada might be a bit protective of its curlers. Still, Homan’s postmatch interviews were a bit heartbreaking.
“We wanted to try and qualify and make the playoffs for Canada,” she said. “We gave it all we had. We never gave up, and that’s the way it goes sometimes. That’s sport. I thought we played really well. I don’t know.”
Which brings us to the evening match. OAR got out to a quick 3-0 lead after just one end, and Canada looked flat and uninspired. But as the match wore on, a few of Canada’s fans — who had surely paid a lot to get here, and undoubtedly expected to be here a bit longer — woke up, shouting “Here we go, Canada, here we go!” and rattling cowbells. They started calling out individual curlers by name — “Li-Sa Wea-Gle!” — and that prompted a few smiles from the team. Canada soon evened the match at 5 apiece, and went into the final end tied at 8.
The match was the last one on the floor; the United States had missed a chance to force a playoff with Japan, and South Korea had continued its thundering stomp through the tournament. The arena was maybe 10 percent full, empty enough that you could hear conversations on the rink and in the stands. “Ra-Chel! Ho-Man!” the fans shouted, and Homan smiled a resigned smile. Moments later, Canada managed to pull off a last-second 9-8 victory.
“We love you, Canada!” a fan bellowed, and it sure sounded like the lone voice who’d been shouting all match long. But now, he had company. Canada’s team is out of the medal hunt, but they held on fast to the love of their fans. For now, it’ll have to do.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.
More Olympic coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• South Korean skaters leave teammate in tears
• Worst Olympian? No, Liz Swaney might be the best
• Vonn: I’ll need ‘medical miracle’ for 2022 Games
• Photo shows Gus Kenworthy’s ugly hip injury
• The legend of Chloe Kim continues to grow