Cheryl Bernard one step from gold

Canada's women curlers win semi-final

Let the Google searches continue. Cheryl Bernard, the skip of the Canadian women’s curling team—and a full-blown Internet sensation—is on the brink of Winter Games glory after leading her rink to a semi-final win over Switzerland today. The 6-5 victory sets up a gold-medal showdown Friday afternoon against Sweden, the defending Olympic champs. “It’s amazing,” said a beaming Bernard. “You get this close and you want it even more.”

She wasn’t quite so chipper last night. Battling a nasty cold, the 43-year-old Calgarian declined a chance to attend the Canada/Russia hockey showdown, choosing instead to gulp some NeoCitran and watch the game from her bed. It was the right choice. The only symptoms she felt this morning were the butterflies in her stomach. “There were a lot of nerves, but we tried to breathe and tried to do all the stuff we know how to do, and I thought we played great under the circumstances,” she said. “Our team handled the nerves.”

Tonight—with at least a silver medal now guaranteed—Bernard plans to drink something else: a glass of red wine. “Definitely,” she laughed.

There were certainly some tense moments. Trailing 5-4 in the ninth, Swiss skip Mirjam Ott looked ready to steal a point for the tie after guiding her rock onto the button, directly in front of one of the Canadian stones. But Bernard followed that up with the highlight of the morning, using her hammer to knock out the Swiss stone and capture one. (It was nearly two, but another Swiss rock was a smidgen closer than the other Canadian stone left in the house).

Down by two in the tenth, Ott had one final chance to tie things up, but after her final shot eliminated Bernard’s stone, it rolled a little too far. The crowd—which included Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and actor Donald Sutherland—erupted in applause. Ott could only shake her head. “It’s hard,” she said. “It was a close game and it was obviously not my best day.”

It wasn’t Bernard’s best day, either. But it was enough to ensure that the Canadian women leave Vancouver with some sort of curling medal in their suitcases. Had they lost, it would have meant a fight for the bronze tomorrow morning against the Chinese, who lost 9-4 to the Swedes. “I think there is pressure off,” said Dennis Balderston, the Canadian coach. “Personally, I felt the pressure. I tried not to show it to them, but this was the pressure game for me.”

Bernard agreed. “We know how much it meant, and I haven’t played a game like that before and neither have the rest of the girls,” she said. “There is not so much pressure now, but we still have a job to do.”

Susan O’Connor, Bernard’s third, said when Switzerland’s last rock slid out of the circle, her first emotion was relief. “Now it’s just exciting,” she said. It’s exciting that we get to come play for the gold medal in front of this crowd. What could be better in the world?”

Just one thing. A win.

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