Four years ago, Japan and Great Britain’s women’s curling teams met up in the bronze medal game of the 2018 Winter Olympics.
In that game, Japan got the best of GBR in the 10th after skip Eve Muirhead made a mistake on the final throw to give Japan a steal of one and a 5-3 win that kept Great Britain team off the podium.
This week, Great Britain and Japan faced off for an even bigger medal, and Muirhead made sure not to leave it up to a final shot this time.
In Saturday’s women’s curling gold medal game, Great Britain was so dominant the game only lasted nine ends. Muirhead’s team scored two points in the first, four in the seventh, and two more in the ninth on the way to a 10-3 win over Japan.
The win is Great Britain’s first women’s curling Olympic championship since 2002.
"It’s a moment that I don't think has sunk in yet, but it's a moment that I know I’ll never ever forget," Muirhead told reporters after the game. "I think it’s something I dreamed of as a young child was to get that Olympic gold medal and to stand on that podium and it’s come true. I really have to cherish this moment and love ever second."
Both GBR and Japan came in having been successful these Olympics with a similar play style - aggressive, calm, and confident, working to fill the 4-foot in each end.
Great Britain maintained that level of play in the final game, but Japan wasn’t as poised.
With a two point lead, Great Britain put the game away in the seventh with a 4-point end that put the team up 8-2. On Japan’s final throw, Satsuki Fujisawa overthrew the rock on a takeout attempt, and rolled her stone out of the house. All Muirhead had to do next was get rid of the one lying Japanese stone, which she did on a hit-and-roll that left her team lying four.
Muirhead helped her team take an early lead in the first with a takeout that tapped a Japanese stone lying up against one of her own. The angle caught the opposing rock just enough to knock it out of the way and keep Great Britain’s stone in place for two points.
Japan struggled with overthrows and overcurls the rest of the night, and never put together an end of more than one point.
"I think today we played a fantastic game," Muirhead said. "For all my team to come out and play as well as they did under all the pressures was just fantastic. We had a lot of fun out there. Vicky (Wright) said to me during the game she's having so much out there and when you hear that you have fun as well. I can’t thank everybody and our support staff enough."
"We talked about it last night and this morning. We said let’s just go out there and have fun," said GBR's Vicky Wright. "And when we have fun we always perform our best… I said to Eve, 'This is the best game I’ve ever played. I don't want it to end.' I was just like, this is just amazing. That’s what we did, go out there and have fun and see what happens."
Muirhead is one of seven curlers to compete in four or more Olympics, but her team at this Games hasn’t been together nearly that long. Muirhead and Wright are the only players who returned from the team in 2018, and Muirhead, Wright, and Jennifer Dodds are the only ones who were together for the most recent world championships in 2021. Hailey Duff was added just a few months before the Games.
"I think really its just our bond together," Duff said. "We really gelled together as soon as we were put together as a team and we can really trust each other and be open and honest, and I think that’s really important and that’s what got us here."
The team of Muirhead, Wright, Dodds, and Duff helped Great Britain to just its third women's curling Olympic medal of all time. It was also Great Britain's second medal in all of the 2022 Games. The other was silver won by the men's curling team a day earlier.
With the silver medal, Japan finishes with its best Olympic finish in the country’s history. It’s just the second Olympic medal ever won by a Japanese curling team.
“We lost, that’s for sure," said Japan's Yurika Yoshida. "But to be here with all my teammates... Team Japan has become the top. I am just super grateful for everything.”
"Despite silver, it is indeed a meaningful medal for Japan," added Japan's Yumi Suzuki. “We have regrets, of course, but there were so many people supporting us along the way. We are only here thanks to team Japan.”