SOCHI, Russia (AP) — It's time to find out just whether China belongs at the top table of men's curling.
The Chinese find themselves in an unusual position at the Sochi Olympics — first in the standings, above established curling powers like Canada, Britain and Sweden, and undefeated after four games.
Perhaps just one more win from their last five round-robin games will be enough to secure a place in the semifinals. Not bad for a team which finished eighth in its only previous Olympics and has never seriously challenged for the world title.
So can they handle the pressure? Not even their coach knows.
"I don't know how they are going to respond, to be honest," said Marcel Rocque, the Canada curling great who was hired to coach China's men's and women's team for the year up to and including the Olympics.
"And I don't know if they know how they will respond. They just have to trust in the training and the work that we have done."
The schedule has been kind to Liu Rui's rink early on, but that's about to change. On Friday, China will play Sweden in the morning session and Norway in the evening.
And they still have two more of the "big guns," as Rocque puts it, left to play in Canada and Britain in their final two group games.
If China does slip up, there are teams waiting to pounce in the fight for a top-four finish and spot in the playoffs.