Japan upsets Switzerland to reach curling final

Japan stunned world champion Switzerland 8-6 in the Beijing Winter Olympics women’s curling semifinals Friday, booking its ticket to the gold-medal match against Great Britain.

Skip Satsuki Fujisawa and team Loco Solare pulled off the upset a day after being handily beaten 8-4 by the top-ranked Swiss in their final round-robin game.

The next challenge will be Great Britain, who drubbed Japan 10-4 in the round robin and advanced a 12-11 winner over Sweden in Friday’s other semifinal.

Either way, Japan, the 2018 bronze medalist, will now take at least one step up the podium on Saturday, with the nation’s best-ever Olympic curling result guaranteed.

The semifinal win marked a dramatic turnaround for Japan, which just scraped into the playoffs via the draw-shot challenge tiebreaker following its loss Thursday to Switzerland, which topped the round robin with an 8-1 record.

“I didn’t feel all that much pressure,” Fujisawa said. “You could say that my indecision hurt us yesterday, influenced our tactics and our shots.”

“But today we had a lot of time from morning until our evening game to talk everything over thoroughly as a team and decide our approach. That was the big thing.”

Japan had started the round-robin game positively before a lack of precision with the hammer allowed Switzerland skip Silvana Tirinzoni and her world champion side to take control.

The team from Hokkaido’s Kitami avoided such mistakes in the semifinal, looking sharp from the opening end.

Switzerland's Silvana Tirinzoni gives instructions to teammates during their women's semifinal game against Japan at the National Aquatics Centre in Beijing on Friday. | AFP-JIJI
Switzerland’s Silvana Tirinzoni gives instructions to teammates during their women’s semifinal game against Japan at the National Aquatics Centre in Beijing on Friday. | AFP-JIJI

After Switzerland blanked the first, the sides scored one each with the hammer until Japan seized the momentum with a big fifth end.

With the front two and third Chinami Yoshida laying the foundation, Fujisawa threw a superb double takeout with the final stone to score four and go up 5-2.

“Our focus was not about wanting to win as much as it was about making good shots, team shots, one after another,” lead Yurika Yoshida said.

Japan extended the lead by stealing one in the sixth before Switzerland hit back with a three-ender to make it 6-5 through seven.

With Japan holding serve for one in the eighth, Switzerland needed to go big on its last regulation end with the hammer.

It looked poised for multiple points after Yoshida missed badly on a double takeout attempt, but Fujisawa dug Japan out of danger to limit Switzerland to one.

Second Yumi Suzuki said the team has found itself here on the ice.

“Satchan (Fujisawa) kept making great shots, but we all played our parts making the shots we needed to make. We discovered the quality within ourselves,” she said.

Japan coach J.D. Lind lauded his side for turning things around just 24 hours after ending the round robin with a heavy defeat.

“The way that this team handles adversity and bounces back from difficult situations is definitely the biggest strength that they have,” the Canadian-born Lind said. “They’re an amazing group that work really well together (and) support each other.”

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