GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) - Kim Eun-jung secured South Korea’s first Olympic curling medal with a pressure packed final shot to seal a nail-biting 8-7 extra-ends victory over Japan in the women’s semi-finals on Friday and set up a gold medal showdown with Sweden.
The Swedes scored a pair in the sixth and stole three in the seventh to thump Britain 10-5 and book their spot in the final for the fourth straight Winter Games.
Japan will play Britain for the bronze on Saturday while South Korea and Sweden will square off on Sunday for gold.
The only Asian nation to win an Olympic curling medal was China who took the women’s bronze at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
South Korea will top that, guaranteed at least a silver after a nervy victory over Japan secured when skip Kim Eun-jung delivered a nervy draw to the button for the winning point.
“In the round robins it was a bit pressure because we were not used to play games with big crowd,” Kim said.
“But as the games went on we could enjoy it and the crowd seemed to come here after studying rules so that was helpful for us.
“With this huge support, I thought there’s nothing we can’t do.”
The atmosphere inside a packed Gangneung Curling Centre was super-charged as the South Koreans, who have become internet and social media sensations, marched into the arena behind standard bearers in traditional Korean outfits.
When the “Garlic Girls”, nicknamed after the county from which they hail that is known for garlic, were introduced the crowd cheered and let out a mighty roar after every shot.
After the Korean rink put a three on the scoreboard in the opening end it looked as if they might romp to victory but Japan would not buckle and when they took two in the ninth and stole another point in the 10th to level at 7-7 the crowd were on the edge of their seats.
The tension built with every rock until ice-cool Kim settled in for her final shot and the arena fell silent, the only sound the stone rumbling across the ice.
With the bespectacled Kim barking commands to her sweepers the rock slowed to stop on the button and the crowd erupted as the foursome embraced and tears flowed.
After shaking hands with Japan the Korean foursome came together and bowed to the crowd, blowing kisses to wild applause as they walked off the ice.
As “Garlic Girls” mania swept the arena a high quality semi-final on another sheet between Sweden and Britain played out almost unnoticed.
Sweden, gold medal winners in 2006 and 2010 and silver medalists in 2014, took a 2-0 lead in the second end and battled Britain to a 3-3 draw after five.
But Swedes put away Eve Muirhead’s foursome with a pair in the six and stole three in the seventh to bring the contest to a quick end.
“The sixth end she made a fantastic shot for two and then in the seventh end of course coming up slightly light on that draw and nicking the guard was crucial,” Muirhead said. “That’s curling isn’t it.
“It comes down to inches and millimeters and there it was. But giving up a steal three, you’re going to be on the back foot.”
Additional reporting by Jane Chung, Editing by Ed Osmond