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.