Gangneung, South Korea (AFP) – Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR) made their debut at the 2018 Olympics yesterday but were routed by the United States as mixed doubles curling launched competition at the Pyeongchang Games.
Americans brother and sister Matt and Becca Hamilton ripped the husband-and-wife team of Aleksandr Krushelnitckii and Anastasia Bryzgalova 9-3 in the first Pyeongchang Games result – and in Olympic history for the debut event.
The Russians entered under the Olympic flag as their homeland’s banner and anthem were banned along with many athletes in the wake of major doping violations at the Sochi 2014 Olympics.
“I’m sure they are a little bit bummed they don’t get to wear a Russian flag,” Matt Hamilton said. “But that’s life. You’ve got to take what you are given. At least they are at the Olympics.”
The Hamiltons jumped ahead 3-0 and needed only seven of eight ends to take the most lopsided win of the opening round-robin session.
“We knew we had strong competition in the opening match and we would have to capitalize on their misses,” Becca Hamilton said.
While the official opening ceremony is today, an 18-day Olympic sports programme began when South Korea’s Jang Hye-Ji slid the first stone down the curling ice.
She and Lee Ki-Jeong beat Finland 9-4. Other opening results saw Norway down Canada 9-6 and Switzerland beat China 7-5 before a near-capacity crowd of 3,000 at Gangneung Curling Centre.
The OAR duo was cheered by a handful of supporters waving a Russian flag and yelling “Russ-i-a”, notably after the couple scored two points in the second end, their best moment of the match.
Neither Krushelnitckii nor Bryzgalova spoke to reporters after the match.
The Hamiltons played down any political rivalry or doping scandal overtones in the USA-Russia matchup.
“Just a name change,” Becca said. “We played them at the worlds last year. Same people.”
“We know there were some issues with that same organization and doping. But that doesn’t add any motivation,” Matt said.
“The motivation is enough to win a gold medal. No need to add anything on top of that.” He did favour the sibling bond over playing as a married couple, noting, “blood is thicker than water” and “I can’t divorce my sister.”
He also stumbled onto his rear during the match, but laughed it off, saying, “I’ve got more of a bruised ego than a bruised tailbone.”
After seven round-robin matches through Sunday, the top four teams reach Monday’s semi-finals with medal matches on Tuesday.