- Associated Press - Friday, February 23, 2018

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) - The hometown crowd, new to the Olympic sport of curling, roared as South Korea’s last shot in the final end of regulation knocked away a Japanese stone and slid across the target.

But the players knew not to celebrate: it was going too fast.

When skip Kim Eun-jung had another chance with the last rock in the tiebreaking extra end - a huge advantage, known as the hammer - she delivered, sending the hosts into the women’s gold medal match and the crowd into another frenzy.

“I had a pretty good shot, which made me confident,” Kim said through a translator on Friday after the 8-7, 11th-end victory over Japan clinched the first curling medal in Korean history. “Playing the match with Japan, with all the support, (I) felt nothing was impossible.”

The South Korean women’s curling team has become a fan favorite the Pyeongchang Olympics, where they have come to be known as the “Garlic Girls” after the pungent bulb grown in their hometown. The Gangneung Curling Center was packed for the semifinals, with fans lining the railings around the area, clanging noisemakers, waving flags, blowing horns and shouting for every shot.

South Korea led 7-4 before Japan scored two in the ninth end. But that meant the South Koreans would have the last-rock advantage in the 10th.

As Kim settled in for the final shot of regulation, an anticipatory cheer arose from the crowd before a gentle “shush” quieted the arena so she could concentrate. Her shot clanged off the Japanese one, but rolled a few inches too far, giving Japan a game-tying point.

In the 11th, though, there was no doubt.

The South Koreans rose their brooms in triumph before the rock came to a rest; the Japanese players consoled each other, some wiping their eyes.

“They didn’t give up,” said coach J.D. Lind, whose team fell behind by three points in the first end and trailed the entire match. “It would have been very easy for them to say, ‘We didn’t have it today.’”

South Korea will play Sweden for the gold medal on Sunday. Japan will play the Sochi bronze medalist team from Britain on Saturday night for third place.

Sweden will be going for a pair of gold medals, with the men playing the United States in the championship on Saturday afternoon.

The Swedish women advanced on Friday with a 10-5 semifinal victory over Britain about a half hour before the South Korean match ended.

The Swedish women scored two in the sixth end to break a 3-3 tie and then stole three points in the seventh even though Britain had the hammer. After scoring two points in the ninth, the British conceded the match.

Sweden shook hands, as is the custom, then hugged as a group while jumping up and down on the ice.

“It feels amazing,” Sweden skip Anna Hasselborg said. “I’m so proud of my team and how we handled all the feelings the whole week. This is the most fun game I’ve ever played so I hope the gold medal game will be just as much fun.”

South Korea beat Sweden 7-6 during pool play earlier in the tournament.


More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org

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