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ParalympicsGB wheelchair curlers secure semi-final v Russia after highs and lows in the Ice Cube

on 13-03-2014 18:26

The ParalympicsGB wheelchair curlers ended day 6 of the 2014 Sochi Paralympic Winter Games safe in the knowledge they had secured a semi-final berth in the competition, consequently fulfilling the promise to better their performance from Vancouver.

In a rollercoaster day of highs and lows at the Ice Cube Curling Centre, which had seen the team make an almighty comeback against USA to seize victory in the morning session, ParalympicsGB struggled to deliver the shots needed to hold back their Chinese rivals, who were also seeking victory to secure their passage to Saturday’s semi-finals.

Meanwhile, a vocal home crowd were avidly following the action between Russia and Slovakia on the neighbouring sheet, a game which would also have a role to play in GB’s semi-final fate.

China opened the scoring against GB with a point in end 1 and went on to steal another point in end 2 as Neilson’s hammer fell just shy of the house. GB claimed a point in end 3, but the Chinese surged forward in end 4 to claim three points and push their lead to 5-1. Stealing another point in end 5, China raced ahead with a score of 6-1.

GB responded to the score deficit by changing their team dynamic for the second time that day, bringing Bob McPherson onto the ice as experienced Angie Malone assumed lead and Gregor Ewan replaced Aileen Neilson in the role of skip. The new line-up secured another point for GB in end 6 but they failed to reclaim serious ground from their opponents, who looked confident and assured on the ice as they maintained their dominance. China took possession of the hammer in end 7, but GB stole a point as China missed the take-out shot and the chance to further extend their lead.

End 8 was once again tense for the British supporters cheering on their team in the Ice Cube, with the ParalympicsGB curlers needing a high score to stay in the game. Malone’s first stones stopped just short of the house and with no stones in the house for either team by the game’s close, China claimed victory with a score of 6-3.

GB had to battle to maintain their focus until the very last minutes of the game, as next to them the Slovakians were fighting hard to improve their ranking and force a tie-breaker scenario. With the home favourites assured a place in the semi-finals, the teams exchanged points for the first half of the game until the Russians raised their level of play to win five points in the final two ends, eventually winning with a score of 7-4. As loud cheers from the home crowd rang out in the Ice Cube, the ParalympicsGB curlers knew that the top four finish and semi-final place was theirs, despite the loss to China.

Ewan said: “It was difficult, I really struggled the first three ends. Tony came down and brought Bob down, said Aileen off and Gregor on... but it’s not just a case of one person sitting up on the bench, or one person on the ice, we’re all a team and we win or lose as a team. We still put in a good effort, but it just wasn’t good enough.”

Neilson added: “We knew that China were a hitting game and when we come on form we are a good hitting team, it just wasn’t coming off today for us unfortunately. It’s about being quick enough to change your style if it’s not working for you and I think we just didn’t do that today.”

Looking ahead to the semi-final clash against Russia on Saturday, Gregor said: “We need to relax. It’s one of those that’s easier to say and harder to do sometimes. I’ve never been in this situation with this pressure before, but it’s the Paralympics.

“We’ve got to keep focussed on what the goal is, but we also need to re-group and say how do we want to get there?"

"Russia were very strong in our last game against them. I just hope that we can give them a game of it" Aileen Neilson

Neilson said: “We’ve played Russia on many occasions over the last three years so we’ll certainly make sure we look at our previous games, what their tactics have been in this competition and use that to our advantage. Tomorrow there will be a bit of down time but it’s also about remaining focussed and not turning down the volume too much so that we have full concentration when we get on the ice on Saturday.”

After several days of challenging conditions up in Rosa Khutor, the sun was once again shining as competition got under way in the men’s Slalom.

Sixteen year-old James Whitley made an assured Paralympic debut in the men’s standing competition. Ranked 20th after the first run, he pinned down an overall time of 1:53.43 to secure a 15th place finish.

Whitley said: “It's amazing. I never thought I'd get here [to the Paralympics] in the first place so get here and put in a good result is a dream come true.

“I didn't think I could do as well as I've done. I'm only at the start of my career but to get a top 15 is brilliant." James Whitley

“This result will keep me really motivated and it will help me have a really clear mind and have a really great race in the GS. I think some of the nerves I used to have will have died away as now I've have done the ultimate event.”

In a field of 41 competitors, Ben Sneesby performed impressively on his Paralympic debut. A fast run of 1:01.62 was followed by a solid time of 1:03.68 in the men’s Sitting competition, ranking him in 12th place which was subsequently upgraded to 11th following a disqualification.

Sneesby said: “It was a bit nerve wracking and I had to take some deep breaths at the top to keep myself calm.

“To come down and finish it, when there are world class athletes who tried their best but didn't finish, I'm pleased with myself.

“I look up to all those athletes so it's great to have legitimately done well at a Paralympics. It's a great achievement.”

Former serviceman Mick Brennan was also back in action in the Slalom and recorded a fast time of 1:06.30 in his first run, however a missed gate ruled him out of a second opportunity to race.

Tomorrow the action resumes at Rosa Khutor as Jade Etherington and Caroline Powell seek to continue their excellent form in Sochi, aiming to impress in the Super-G element of the Super Combined which was postponed on Tuesday due to bad weather.

With three competitors failing to complete Slalom and face a second run, Etherington and Powell will be guaranteed a medal if they complete the course. Also competing will be Mick Brennan and Anna Turney.

On Saturday (09:30 local time) the wheelchair curlers face Russia in their semi-final clash against a team which have marked their Paralympic debut by finishing the round robin at the top of the standings. The medal matches will follow from 15:30 local time.

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