SOCHI, Russia (AP) — A pre-Olympic list of potential gold-medal winners in men's curling definitely would have included Canada, Norway and Sweden. Britain, too, and maybe even Switzerland.
China? No chance.
Better revise those predictions.
The Chinese beat Switzerland 5-4 in the morning session and then Germany 11-7 in the evening to finish Wednesday at the top of the standings with four straight wins.
They are confounding expectations in only their second appearance at the Olympics, having placed eighth in Vancouver in 2010. It may have something to do with the hiring of Canadian curling great Marcel Rocque as their temporary coach in July.
So what's the secret?
"I'm not telling you that," said Rocque, a three-time world champion in the so-called "Ferbey Four" at the start of the century. "I'll keep that close. My old teams will watch this and they'll know what's going on.
"It's the first time they have a coach with this level of experience. What I got them to do is trust me and believe in what I was saying."
The rest of the favorites are in just behind them as the tournament starts to take shape after three days.
With Sweden (3-1) losing 8-5 to Denmark in the evening session, Norway (3-0) is only other unbeaten team in the competition after defeating Germany 8-5 in the morning at the Ice Cube Curling Center.
Two-time defending champion Canada (2-2) recovered from back-to-back losses by beating Russia 7-4, inflicting a fourth straight loss on the host nation. The other evening game — Britain's 4-2 victory over Switzerland — was memorable for equaling the lowest-scoring game in the history of the men's tournament.
They may not have the stylish pants of the Norwegians or the fierce reputation of the curling-mad Canadians, but the Chinese are making their own mark in Sochi.
The schedule has been kind to Liu Rui's rink early on, however. China still has all the "big guns," as Rocque puts it, left to play so a top-four berth — and a place in the semifinals — isn't assured just yet.
"The playoffs was our goal," Rocque said. "Doesn't matter if it's first or fourth."
Norway caused a stir in the Vancouver Games in 2010 by donning diamond-printed pants for their matches instead of the usual black curling trousers that most teams wear.
In Sochi, the Norwegians have gone a step further and unleashed their new, bold range of clothing on the Germans. Wearing flat caps, knee-length knickers and dark blue soccer socks, the stylish Norwegians looked the part and played pretty well, too.
"It was knickerbockers vs. lederhosen today," Norway curler Christoffer Svae said. "And the knickerbockers won."
After a surprisingly poor start to the tournament, Brad Jacobs' Canada rink decided to watch video clips of its victories in the national Olympic trials to fire them up.
"It got us pumped," Canada curler Ryan Harnden said. "We just haven't been on our game. We've been struggling with rocks, ice, but tonight was normal Team Jacobs."
Jacobs' four-pointer in the fifth end was the turning point, silencing a boisterous home crowd as Russia slipped to 0-4 with Germany.
The U.S. men and women were a combined 0-5 after two days' play, but John Shuster's team ended the losing streak by beating Denmark 9-5 in the morning, with five of its points coming from steals.
"Getting a win was huge both for our team and for the state of curling as far as our country goes," Shuster said.
Shuster said the arrival of his wife Sarah and 9-month-old son Luke in Sochi on Tuesday sparked an improvement in his performance, after disappointing losses to Norway and China.
"I got a text message from my wife last night that helped me get in a much better mindset," he said. "She just told me to remember to enjoy this and be a curler, because you are out here doing something that you have fun doing."