POSTED: 9:55 a.m. HST, Feb 14, 2014
LAST UPDATED: 9:59 a.m. HST, Feb 14, 2014
SOCHI, Russia >> China and Britain won tense games that went down to the final rocks Friday night to create a three-way tie with Sweden atop the standings in men's Olympic curling.
The Chinese proved they are genuine gold-medal contenders by bouncing back from a 6-5 loss to Sweden in the morning session to beat Norway 7-5.
Britain stole a point on the final end to defeat Denmark 8-6 at the Ice Cube Center.
The three joint-leaders each have 5-1 win-loss records, with three round-robin games remaining.
Canada, the favorite and two-time defending champion, produced its best performance of the tournament to defeat Norway 10-4 in the morning. The Canadians have won three straight and are 4-2.
The Norwegians slipped to 3-3 on a day when the pressure and tension grew as the medal round loomed into view. The 2010 silver medalists and crowd favorites -- because of their wacky pants -- likely need to win all their remaining games to reach the playoffs.
"It leaves us a bit down in the mud," Norway curler Christoffer Svae said, "and we need to crawl our way back up."
Also in the evening, the United States' playoffs hopes were dented in a 7-6 loss to Russia in the most heart-stopping finish this week. U.S. skip John Shuster threw the game's final shot, his stone glancing off a Russian rock and leaving four surrounding the button -- two from each team.
Players from both rinks peered over to see which was the closest -- and it proved to be one of Russia's by a tiny fraction.
"He threw a darn good shot," U.S. player Jeff Isaacson said of Shuster's last shot. "He only had to hit it within a millimeter more and we would have made it."
The United States is 2-4 and even finishing with three wins is unlikely to be enough to advance.
Last-place Germany beat Switzerland 8-7 for a first win of the tournament, ending a streak of five losses.
The Chinese started the day as the only unbeaten team, but with some doubts over their big-game experience.
There shouldn't be doubts anymore.
The world champion Sweden team only beat China on the last rock. Norway was taken down by another convincing display from a team that has been coached by Canadian curling great Marcel Rocque for the past eight months.
"Coming into today, I told these guys that they are jumping into the shark tank," said Rocque, a three-time world champion. "Tons of credit to these players of mine for believing that they can compete against these top dogs and make a good game of it."
Players from Sweden and Norway think China will challenge for gold.
"They are coming fast," Svae said, "and it's just a matter of time before they get a medal. It could happen here."
The Canadians have found the form that helped them sweep through their Olympic trials unbeaten for the first time in the country's storied curling history.
This was the Canadians' third straight win after a sluggish start -- and the roar and fierce fist-pump that skip Brad Jacobs greeted his game-defining four-ender in the 7th end spoke a lot of his current mindset.
"That was the most emotional we have been because that was the biggest shot in our biggest game yet," Jacobs said. "I think we were all kind of waiting to explode in this tournament."
Canada is fourth in the standings but remains the favorite for gold.