SOCHI, Russia — Brad Jacobs set himself up for a shot he practices more than any other, released his final rock and saw it curl right onto the button for the win.
A routine shot for the Canada skip at the end of a far-from-routine week for him and his team.
The Canadians joined Sweden in qualifying for the Olympic curling semifinals on Sunday with a pair of tense wins over the United States and China that just about summed up the team’s round-robin campaign.
Nothing has come easy for Jacobs’ rink, which many expected would breeze through qualifying in the wake of a breakthrough year in 2013 that included an undefeated run in the Canadian trials. It rarely works out that way at the Olympic Games, however, and Canada at one stage was 1-2.
“When you come to an Olympics, there is so much hype about gold, gold, gold, gold, gold, especially with the Canadian men’s curling team because it is so successful,” Jacobs said.
“We kind of let that get to us a little bit so we had to refocus, regroup … and stay in the present. Forget about the gold medal. It was all mental.”
Jacobs’ draw to the button sealed a 9-8 victory over the Chinese in an extra end and meant Canada finished at 7-2. It beat the U.S. by stealing a point in the 10th to win 8-6.
Canada will be the No. 2 seed in the semifinals behind Sweden (8-1), which beat Russia — in front of the Swedish king and queen — 8-4 and then United States 6-4 on Sunday.
“You feel more important when you play for your country and that the king is there watching as well,” Sweden skip Niklas Edin said. “It is great he came out to support us playing for the nation.”
Sweden’s only defeat in the round robin came, somewhat surprisingly, against Denmark.
It leaves open the possibility of Sweden meeting Canada in the gold-medal match, which would be a repeat of last year’s world championship final.
There’s a three-way fight behind them for the two remaining semifinal places, between Norway, China and Britain.
Britain and China lost their games Sunday to squander a chance to complete the lineup for the playoffs with a day to spare. Norway stayed alive in the tournament by winning two games — one against the British, 7-6.
China plays Britain on Monday in their last game. The Chinese will advance with a win whereas a victory for the British — combined with Norway beating Denmark — would result in a three-way tie-breaker.
“To be honest, I fancy our chances, I really do,” British skip David Murdoch said. “We have a good record against the Chinese team. Obviously they are playing well but so are we. We have only lost a couple of games by a few inches and we need to take the positives from that.”
Britain and Norway have more big-tournament experience than the China, which is in uncharted territory having showing great improvement under temporary coach Marcel Rocque, the Canadian curling great.
“I knew it would come to the end, it always does,” Rocque said.
Norway, the 2010 silver medalist, felt the team needed to win its last three games and is almost there. It followed up the morning win against Britain by beating Switzerland 5-3 in the evening.
“We are pretty used to playing under pressure,” Norway curler Christoffer Svae said. “It’s not our first barbeque. And we win more games than we lose against Denmark.”
Denmark beat Germany 6-3 in the evening session’s other game, keeping the Germans in last place at 1-7.