There's a crowd near the top of the men's standings in Olympic curling. Three teams are at 5 and 1 and none of them are skipped by Canada's Brad Jacobs. But that isn't a big problem. Not for Jacobs, anyway.
After a pivotal eighth draw that saw China and Great Britain pull into a tie with Sweden for first place, the race for a medal round spot is a bit more clear, if a little top heavy. With a record of 4 and 2, Jacobs and Team Canada sit in fourth spot, with games against both Great Britain and China to come (as well as an easier touch against the United States), meaning they are entirely in control of their medal round destiny.
What have been cemented after draw 8 are two things: 1) Norway has an uphill battle for a playoff spot and 2) China's Rui Liu isn't going anywhere.
Liu and his teammates made both of those things clear in their 7 - 5 win over Tomas Ulsrud and his Norwegian National Team. The skip, who is shooting at 89% efficiency at this competition, actually went a couple better than that in his match against Ulsrud, firing a 91% game.
Norway, a medal favourite going in, now has a record of 3 and 3 and those losses have been against three teams ahead of them (China, Canada and Sweden) with a game against Great Britain to come. Good news for Ulsrud is that Canada does have two tough games ahead and Great Britain three (Canada, The Norwegians and China).
Sweden should be home and cooled out, barring a monumental collapse. After a tough season, Niklas Edin and his mates have been very good in Sochi. Their last three games are against Germany, Russia and the United States and it wouldn't be at all surprising if they won them all.
David Murdoch's Scottish team is next on the schedule for Canada, Saturday morning at 5 am ET.
Jacobs and his mates have now won three in a row after finding the range in a game against Russia. As they get set for the big push towards the medal round, they took some time out to cheer on some other Olympians, as shown in this tweeted photo from third Ryan Fry:
A little Team Canada vs Austria hockey. Let's go boys!!! pic.twitter.com/nIUCmGy1Qv
— Ryan Fry (@ryanfry79) February 14, 2014
On the women's side, Canada's Jennifer Jones is all alone at the top. After a full day off on Friday, the 5 and oh Canadians get back at it with two games on Saturday, against Japan and Russia. They will hope that the day's rest has not upset the apple cart of scintillating play from Jones, who has been sensational this week.
Outside of the game against the surging Russians, Jones and company are through the toughest part of their schedule (save the medal round) and have the Koreans and United States finishing out their schedule.
Behind Canada and Sweden (second place at 4 and 1), Great Britain and China (each at 3 and 2) are poised to solidify medal round berths but it won't be entirely easy. Great Britain - the reigning world champs - have games against Russia and Switzerland in their final four games, while China has matches against the Swiss and Sweden in their final four. The Russians, at 3 and 3, have an extremely tall order as they push for playoffs. Aside from meeting Great Britain, they finish out their schedule against Canada and Sweden.
Tied with Russia at 3 and 3 is Switzerland, with Korea and Japan hanging on by a thread, at 2 and 3.
Landing first is not really a carrot in this tournament, as it's simply a matter of four teams playing in semi-final medal round games, with those winners playing for gold. That's different from what curlers are used to seeing at both the Canadian and world championship levels, where the first and second place finishers get the bonus of being able to afford a loss in their first playoff game.
On both the men's and women's sides, there will not be much to choose between first and fourth, competitively speaking.
Time for teams to get their elbows up as jostling for most of those positions finds cramped quarters this weekend.
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