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    Saturday, February 14, 1998

    U.S. men still have shot at medal

     KARUIZAWA, Japan (AP) -- The American men couldn't pull off a miracle in Olympic curling. They still could pull off a medal.
     The United States won three straight matches to unexpectedly reach the semifinals against powerhouse Canada, but lost 7-1 Saturday to drop into Sunday's bronze-medal game against Norway.
     Norway was a last-shot 8-7 loser to Switzerland in the other semifinal.
     The Canadians are curling's dominant team, having won four of the last five world championships. They cruised through their round-robin schedule with only a meaningless final-game defeat to Norway, beating Switzerland 8-3 along the way.
     The Americans, led by captain Tim Somerville, won a dramatic last-shot victory over host team Japan in a tiebreaker earlier Saturday, but quickly fell behind Canada 4-0 after three ends of the semifinals. They conceded after eight ends, just as they did in losing 11-3 in six ends, or innings, to Canada in round-robin.
     Canada opened a 2-0 lead after the first end, then increased it to 3-0 when Somerville missed knocking out two Canadian stones with the final throw of the second end. The United States wasted a chance to get back into the game as Somerville missed a tap-out on the final shot of the sixth end, allowing the Canadians to score twice more.
     "The first three ends we played really, really well," said Canadian skip Mike Harris, who shot nearly flawlessly. "The second end was a bit of a surprise with them missing the open hit, but other than that, we were all over them the whole game. I think it was more us playing well rather than them playing poorly."
     It was Somerville's perfectly placed game-winning tap on the final shot that gave the Americans the 5-4 tiebreaker win over the Japanese, who were so anguished at losing they cried on the ice.
     The United States was a longshot just to getinto medal competition after placing no higher than fourth in any world championship since 1993.
     The first Olympic curling tournament also will produce Denmark's first Winter Games medal in any sport.
     Denmark assured itself of a medal by defeating Sweden 7-5 in the semifinals and will meet defending world champion Canada in the championship game Sunday.
     Sweden will meet Britain, a 6-5 loser to Canada in a match that lasted 11 ends, for the bronze medal.
     Denmark lacks the winter sports facilities of Scandinavian rivals Norway and Sweden and has never been a factor in the Winter Olympics.