South Korea coach Peter Gallant (L) and skip Kim Eun-jung share an embrace after South Korea's 8-4 loss to Sweden in a women's curling round-robin game at the Beijing Winter Olympics at the National Aquatics Centre in Beijing on Feb. 17, 2022. (Yonhap)
The second Winter Olympics together for South Korea's Team Kim ended prematurely in women's curling on Thursday, but the curlers said missing out on the knockout stage in Beijing doesn't have to mean the end of their run together.
Needing to beat Sweden in the final round-robin game to sneak into the semifinals, South Korea instead lost 8-4 at the National Aquatics Centre in the Chinese capital. Led by skip Kim Eun-jung, South Korea ended up in eighth place in the 10-team competition at 4-5.
South Korea looked to be in control in the early portion of Thursday's game but Sweden seized control in the second half and scored the final five points of the game.
Reduced to tears after the loss, Kim and her teammates apologized to fans for not living up to their expectations, raised after the same lineup of curlers captured a stunning silver medal and the host country's imagination at PyeongChang 2018.
"I'd like to think everyone who gave us the power to keep going after PyeongChang," Kim said. "Back then, it was our first Olympics and we were just fearless. We wanted to do even better this time and prove once and for all that we were still a great team. I think we all gave everything we had despite all that pressure, and that shows the growth of our team."
Kim Kyeong-ae, the vice skip, said it was "an honor" to be able to compete at second straight Olympics and added she will set her sights at future world championships and Olympics -- a sentiment shared by the rest of the team.
"We did our best until the very end, and I am satisfied with that," she said. "We'll continue to work hard for the upcoming world championships and the next Olympics."
Head coach Lim Myung-sup said his curlers got a delayed start to their preparation for Beijing 2022, because of their legal battle against former coaches and national curling executives over an abuse scandal, which surfaced soon after PyeongChang.
"We were a year or two behind other teams, and I am so proud of my team for coming this far under those circumstances," Lim said.
"We did the best we could here, and we have to go back to the drawing board and figure out what we need to fix. There was so much to learn from how other teams played here, and we will choose what we think will help our team in the future."
Kim Eun-jung pinned Thursday's loss on herself, saying she dug the team in too deep of a hole with her mistakes.
Peter Gallant, the Canadian-born coach of the team back at the helm after a successful run in PyeongChang, also rued an opportunity to put pressure on Sweden in the sixth end. Sweden ended up getting a point there instead and the pendulum swung the Europeans' way for good.
Still, Gallant praised his athletes' resilience throughout the competition.
"Almost every game we lost, we were in it right till the end. After eight ends, we were tied, or we lost a game in extra ends,"
Gallant said. "They're just a very strong, tough team. There are a few things to work on in order to get to the top and stay there. That's what the focus will have to be going forward."
In 2018, Team Kim helped raised the profile of curling in South Korea, where videos of people sweeping floors with brooms, a la curling style, went viral.
Kim said she was grateful for the rise in the popularity of her sport, though she thought the fever died down more quickly she would have liked.
"It would have been great if we'd performed better here, but this was another opportunity for us to promote curling in Korea,"
Kim said. "I am thankful for that opportunity. I hope more people will get to see us in person after the COVID-19 pandemic ends and learn more about curling." (Yonhap)