Canadas Cheryl Bernard one shot from Olympic gold, has to settle for silver

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The last stone that had been so kind to the Canadian women's curling team at the Vancouver Olympics finally betrayed Cheryl Bernard - at the worst possible time.
Out of last-minute magic against defending champion Sweden, the 43-year-old Calgary skip had to settle for a medal that felt more like a consolation prize after a 7-6 extra-end loss Friday.
"Eventually this silver's going to feel really great," said a teary-eyed Bernard, her voice breaking. "Just right now, the gold was very close."
Bernard had two opportunities to clinch sport's biggest prize against defending Olympic champion Anette Norberg.
Up 6-4 in the 10th end, all Bernard needed to do with her final shot was knock a Swedish rock out of the house.
The largely pro-Bernard crowd, flags dancing in their hands, rose in anticipation of a Canada gold.
Cheers, then gasps and groans. From curling's Vancouver Olympic Centre to Canada Hockey Place, where a full house watched on the scoreboard prior to the Canada-Slovakia hockey semifinal.
The Swedish stone that Bernard was trying to blast out of the house had other ideas and stuck in the eight-foot circle. Norberg made a routine takeout for two one throw later and the game was headed to an extra end.
There was no panic on the Canadian sidelines heading into the 11th end. Bernard, third Susan O'Connor, second Carolyn Darbyshire, and lead Cori Bartel shared a laugh with coach Dennis Balderston before the first rock was thrown.
And, as fate would have it, Bernard was given another chance to get her rink to the top of the podium.
Sweden was lying shot-stone with two rocks near the four-foot circle. All Bernard, who won her first four games at the Olympics via her last-end hammer, had to do was push the yellow granite out of the house.
Once again the crowd, which included Prime Minister Stephen Harper, rose to its feet as Bernard's rock slid down the ice.
Again, there were gasps. Then silence.
Bernard missed and Sweden was golden.
"Pretty routine double," Bernard said afterward. "Rubbed it, missed it by a millimetre. Couldn't ask for an easier shot."
The loss, seemingly snatched from the jaws of victory, was a hard pill to swallow.
O'Connor, who might have had the best tournament of any member of her team, outplaying her opposing thirds time and time again, also spoke with reporters with tears in her eyes.
But she maintained there's no one else she would have wanted to have the stone in her hand.
"Cheryl is the reason that we're sitting up here now, is the reason that we're at the Olympics," she said. "There is nobody in the world that I would rather have throwing last rock."
Like Bernard, O'Connor said the silver medal hardly feels like a prize right now - but she did her best to look at the glass as half-full.
"It's a pretty huge accomplishment and there's a million people and curlers in Canada that would kill to be in our spot right now," she said.
Bernard had been trying to become the first Canadian women's skip to win Olympic gold since Sandra Schmirler in 1998.
The second consecutive Olympic gold medal is one Norberg feared she might have let slip away.
The Swede was up 4-3 in the seventh end when she came up well short on a draw, albeit a difficult one. Canada stole two and took control of the match.
Bernard's lead jumped to 6-4 when Norberg again missed with her hammer, this time on an attempted takeout.
The Swedish rink seemed as surprised by Bernard's misses as the Canadian rink.
"I can't believe it yet, said Cathrine Lindahl, Sweden's second. "It felt like an easy shot for her and we just said, 'Oh a silver medal is good anyway' and then we got the gold. It's unbelievable."
"You get nervous in an Olympic final and we got nervous after the fifth end. We got a little bit shaky and (Bernard) got shaky in the last two ends."
Norberg said it wasn't until she heard how hard the Canadians were sweeping in the 11th end that she even considered Bernard had missed and that she was still Olympic champion.
"Of course there's nothing that can compare with the first time you win but to also be able to do the same thing four years later is also amazing, but in a slightly different way," she said.
The Canadians started slow against Sweden, with Bernard missing a draw in the second end that would have given her a 2-0 lead. Instead, she had to settle for a single.
O'Connor said nerves, for a rink that had little international experience pre-Olympics, weren't much of a factor.
"It felt like it did all week," she said. "It is exhilarating to walk out there and know that everybody's cheering for you and hear the applause and everything."
After the initial shock of the loss wore off, the fans serenaded the Canadian rink with cheers.
O'Connor said that's what first drove her to tears.
"It's kind of like you come off a loss and you do OK until your mom comes and gives you a hug," she said. "Well, it's like that times a million."
Bernard echoed that praise of the fans.
"We chose to look at that group of people as support for us and they were all week," she said. "They never were a hindrance to our team. It was fantastic to have them. And what they did after we lost, especially after the way I finished it was so impressive of that group of people."
Bernard became even more of a fan favourite during the Games than she might have envisioned.
Her penchant for winning late, as well as her buff physique, generated no shortage of buzz.
Some fans carried "Marry Me Cheryl Bernard" signs throughout the tournament; others tossed roses in her direction.
It was a striking turnaround for a skip who entered the Canadian Olympic curling trials last December as something of an afterthought.
The program guide for the Edmonton event featured a snapshot of golden girl Jennifer Jones and even those who suspected Jones wouldn't clinch the spot in Vancouver leaned toward Shannon Kleibrink, Bernard's Calgary rival and 2006 Olympic bronze medallist.
But it was Bernard who stormed out of the gate to win her first six round-robin matches. Her only loss in the tournament came in a contest already rendered meaningless because Bernard's rink had clinched a spot in the trials final.
Against Kleibrink in the tournament final, Bernard drew to the eight-foot circle with her 10th-end hammer, booking her place in Vancouver while sending the former Olympian home.
Bernard carried her flair for the dramatic right into the Games.
Bernard posted an 8-1 record in the Olympic round robin and, much as she did in Edmonton, clinched the tournament's No. 1 seed.
When asked Friday what the future holds for Bernard's rink, the skip said she and her teammates will talk about that later.
But she told The Canadian Press earlier this year that the Olympics might well be her swan song.
"I'm going to go through this Olympics and I'm going to sit down and maybe we'll play a year as a team after that. I don't know," she said at the time.
"These three years leading up (to the Olympics) is burning out our families."

Organizations: Vancouver Olympic Centre, Canada-Slovakia, Canadian Press

Geographic location: Sweden, Canada, Calgary Edmonton Vancouver

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Recent comments

  • Leah
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    The final shot was heartbreaking and a huge disappointment, needless to say.
    The pressure must have been tremendous, no doubt.
    Ladies, you still did great in representing Canada!

  • Steve
    July 02, 2010 - 13:08

    Curling is like football.

    On any given sunday, you either gonna win or gonna lose, but can you lose like a man / woman?

    Bottom line is, they lost, they gave it their all, left their performance on the ice. There was no whining, no excuses. They represented Canada well.

  • Leah
    July 01, 2010 - 20:06

    The final shot was heartbreaking and a huge disappointment, needless to say.
    The pressure must have been tremendous, no doubt.
    Ladies, you still did great in representing Canada!

  • Steve
    July 01, 2010 - 19:43

    Curling is like football.

    On any given sunday, you either gonna win or gonna lose, but can you lose like a man / woman?

    Bottom line is, they lost, they gave it their all, left their performance on the ice. There was no whining, no excuses. They represented Canada well.