SOCHI, Russia — For three ends, skip Erika Brown and the American women fought off Switzerland's aggressive use of the hammer, the final stone thrown in each frame.
Once the Swiss took advantage, landing three stones in the fourth end to overcome an early 2-0 USA lead, the floodgates opened. Switzerland would add another two points in the fifth end and not look back, winning 7-4 Monday and handing the USA an opening loss in the round-robin portion of the Sochi Games.
Curling: A quick how-to primer
Brown and her teammates can take some solace in the fact that the Swiss played nearly a perfect game after their uneven start.
Paced by skip Mirjam Ott, Switzerland was aggressive in its ownership of the house, the target range at the end of the lane; in at least four ends, the Swiss wrestled away control over the last three stones to clean out USA's chances at claiming a point.
Super Combined: USA's Mancuso gets bronze
Switzerland's approach was on full display in the eighth end, when Ott threaded her toss between two USA stones — lined up outside the target area as would-be roadblocks — and knocked another USA pair out of the house to give her team a 7-3 lead.
If dropping this opening match marks an inauspicious Olympic debut, the USA had no misconceptions about running the table through the round-robin stage.
"We know we're not going to run the field and go 9-0 in the round robin," coach Bill Todhunter said Sunday. "There's going to be a hiccup in there, or two. It's just going to be a matter of getting to the playoffs and then it's win one of two games and you're a medalist. You win the first one, you've got a really nice piece of hardware."
Said coach Derek Brown, "Really, the round-robin stage is about qualifying for the medal rounds. So you can lose a couple games in the round robin and absolutely get in the tournament."
A record of 6-3 in the round robin is probably good enough to get into the tournament stage, Brown estimated.
"You know, gold medals have been won from 5-4," he said. "Also, 5-4 may not qualify. So I think seven's a definite. Seven you're in a guaranteed semifinal, I would say."
The Americans' next match comes Tuesday against Russia, which opened its tournament with a 7-4 loss to Great Britain before rebounding to defeat Denmark 7-4. If the opening result was a fairly disappointing one for the Anna Sidarova-led Russians, who have designs on claiming a medal on their home turf, bouncing back to beat Denmark prevented a potentially crippling 0-2 start.