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    Sunday, February 15, 1998

    Schmirler claims Olympic curling gold

    By DAN RALPH -- The Canadian Press
     KARYUIZAWA, Japan (CP) -- They're Canada's golden girls.
     Sandra Schmirler's Regina rink made curling history today, dispatching Helena Blach Lavrsen of Denmark 7-5 to become the sport's first-ever Olympic gold medallist.
     The victory capped an impressive run for the three-time world champions, who breezed through the round robin with a 6-1 record before needing a last-rock draw to beat Kirsty Hay of Britain 6-5 in an extra end in the semifinals.
     "We expected to be in the gold-medal game and it's always nice to live up to your own personal expectations," said a relatively unemotional Schmirler. "I was certainly more emotional after that semifinal win because it was a much tighter game and things really didn't go our way throughout the game.
     "I'll probably have a meltdown sometime along the way here, but right now it's just a very satisfying feeling. Coming through that struggle (the semifinal) just makes this even more special."
     Lead Marcia Gudereit said winning was a huge relief.
     "We came into this scared, really scared," she said. "It's like everytime you step on to the ice you have to prove yourself and there was a lot of pressure on us.
     "Sometimes you dream about things like that. Deep down it just felt like it was meant to be. In a way, you kind of did expect that feeling but it's always a surprise when it happens.
     "Part of it is what you put on yourself, but we just knew we had to come out and prove ourselves."
     Elisabet Gustafson of Sweden won the bronze medal, downing Hay 10-6.
     Schmirler never trailed in her match, storming to a 3-0 lead in the first end with a brilliant takeout that left the animated skip clutching her right fist in the air.
     But Schmirler said she knew the game was far from over.
     "Denmark knows how to generate offence, how to freeze rocks to the face," Schmirler said. "They really made it difficult to play the hit game.
     "Hats off to them, they played really good I thought."
     Lavrsen did just that in the second end, drawing to the four-foot for two and cutting Schmirler's advantage to 3-2.
     Schmirler reluctantly took a 4-2 lead in the fourth. She made an impressive double takeout, but left the rock biting the 12-foot for one point.
     The Canadians then stole single points in the fifth and sixth ends for a 6-2 lead.
     Lavrsen rallied for two in the seventh, but faced having to make up a 6-4 deficit without the hammer over the remaining three ends.
     Schmirler lost the hammer in the eighth, but did so willingly. Both skips were left holding their breaths as officials made a crucial measurement of rocks in the fourth-foot, determining that Canada's was shot rock to give the Canadians a 7-4 advantage.
     "I didn't look closely at it, I just looked at the side and thought that it was theirs but Jan (third Jan Betker) said, 'No, I don't think so,'" Schmirler said. "It was nice that one went our way."
     In the ninth end Canada was lying five, forcing Lavrsen to draw to a Canadian rock in the four-foot to make it 7-5 and surrender the hammer for the final end.
     Denmark threatened in the 10th, with two guards in front of the house and one in, but second Joan McCusker pulled off a beautiful triple takeout, paving the way for the win.
     "It would be pretty hard to steal two against us after Joan made that incredible shot," Gudereit said.
     Schmirler said she was looking to hearing the Canadian national anthem being played at the official medal presentation.
     "It's going to be a special time," she said. "I hope they're taping it back home."