GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- Despite a highly unusual tumble on the ice, a team of Russian athletes roared back to win the bronze medal in mixed doubles curling by beating Norway 8-4 on Tuesday.
A tearful Anastasia Bryzgalova leaped into her coach's arms after her team's victory, which earned the Russians the first Olympic medal in mixed doubles curling. The game, which is a faster, more energetic offshoot of standard single-gender curling, is making its Olympic debut at the Pyeongchang Games.
Both the Russians and Norwegian teams are couples; Bryzgalova is married to teammate Aleksandr Krushelnitckii, and Norway's Kristin Skaslien is dating teammate Magnus Nedregotten. Bryzgalova said she and her husband drew strength from their relationship, particularly after a tough loss to Switzerland on Monday.
"It's very important that we are family," she said through a translator. "That was very important to survive yesterday's loss just to come out here today and to make the match that we can be proud about. The fact that we are family helped us a lot."
The most dramatic moment of the game came in the third end, or round. Bryzgalova was shuffling backward while strategizing with Krushelnitckii when she stumbled over a stone she didn't realize was behind her. For a second, it seemed as if she would recover her footing, but seconds later, her legs went flying out from under her and she crashed hard onto her backside.
It is very rare for a curler to fall in professional curling, and the spill drew gasps from the stunned crowd.
Curlers wear special shoes to help them maneuver across the ice. On one foot, they wear what's known as a "gripper," which has a rubbery bottom that helps them grip the ice. The other shoe is known as a "slider" -- it has a very slippery Teflon sole that helps the curlers glide.
After looking momentarily stunned, Bryzgalova stood up and gave a sheepish smile. Her coach said she was not hurt in the fall, and she laughed off the embarrassing moment after the match.
"It was very simple -- I forgot about the stone that was behind me," she said.
The Norwegians were trailing from the start, after the Russian duo managed two points in the first end. Norway drew close in the fifth after a takeout shot that gave them two points to bring the score to 5-4, with Russia in the lead. But the Norwegians missed an opportunity to add points in the seventh, when they had the advantage of throwing the final rock. They delivered the stone too hard and it glided past the target, giving the Russians a one-point steal to bring the score to 7-4. Russia added one point in the final end to clinch the win.
"We always ended up chasing the Russians almost every end, so we struggled out there and the Russians had a very good game," Skaslien said. "Fourth place is not bad at all and we're happy with our performance throughout the week."
Skaslien said experiencing the Olympics with her boyfriend had been a big adventure. And despite the stress of being on the world stage, she said, their relationship has remained solid.
"It's been some tough games and we're still good friends, so that's the most important thing," she said with a laugh.
Canada will face off against Switzerland later Tuesday in the mixed doubles gold medal match.