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(published in SWEEP! Magazine - February 2008)

"Goodbye Chris. Hello Jim?"

A six month selection process produced just one change from last year’s Team Canada. Darryl Neighbour replaced Chris Daw to make it an all-BC team at February’s 2008 World Championships in Sursee, Switzerland. (Results not available at press time)

It’s ironic that had the CCA not mandated a coach selected national team, this same group, Gerry Austgarden, Gary Cormack, Sonja Gaudet, Ina Forrest and Neighbour would probably have represented BC at last year’s Nationals and won their way to a 2008 maple leaf jacket.

The eight remaining National Talent Pool (NTP) curlers are free to compete in the 2008 Nationals, March 22-30th in Winnipeg. Northern Ontario, Nova Scotia and an Atlantic Canada team will join Manitoba, Ontario, Alberta and current champions BC at this year's event. Team Canada's continued absence from the Nationals suggests a desire on the part of the CCA to avoid embarrassment were they not to win.

Chris Daw's unceremonious exit from the international stage came in a letter requesting “temporary leave of absence” from the NTP, citing pressure of work and family responsibilities. The news, broken on wheelchaircurling.com several days before an official CCA announcement, provoked faint praise for someone so instrumental in establishing the sport, and the only person to have skipped Team Canada.

Team Leader Wendy Morgan said: "Chris Daw has been an active competitor on the wheelchair curling scene since its inauguration, He is a true pioneer of this sport in Canada." She added that the Discover Curling Program "is fortunate to have Chris’s passion and energy directed toward grassroots recruitment of wheelchair curling participants.”

Joe Rea's only public comment was to stress in an interview with the Vancouver Sun: "There isn't an ego on the (2008) team and from a coaching perspective, that's a huge thing for me."

Chris, a carded athlete, seems to have worn out his welcome, and may have realized that he wasn't going to make the cut before requesting that his name be removed from consideration just prior to the 2008 team announcement. The CCA’s Gerry Peckham stressed Chris had jumped rather than been pushed. He also said that the selection process of skills performance, coach assessment and peer review had each created an identical rating of the NTP members. As Daw's intensity was known to rankle many of his peers, it is fair to extrapolate from what Peckham said that Chris didn’t make the top five, a requirement for team selection.

While Daw may attempt a comeback, a more likely addition to the Canadian squad continues to be Jim Armstrong. Speculation that he will require a wheelchair for his daily mobility in time to be eligible for the 2010 Paralympics has been encouraged in his own press interviews.

Canada, as 2010 host, is under huge pressure and is allocating unprecedented resources to win gold. But all the top teams are improving their shot making. Thoralf Hognestad, coach of 2007 World Champions Norway, feels that a team curling at the level of the 2006 Torino Paralympics would have no chance in 2008, let alone 2010. Additionally, the top teams have recognised that the format of wheelchair curling, lacking sweeping, precludes shooting percentages consistently higher that 60-65%. They are therefore simplifying their game plans, and putting rocks into the house to take advantage of their opponent's inevitable misses.

The skills of regular curling that apply equally in wheelchair curling are calling appropriate shots and reading the ice. This may explain the CCA's wooing of Armstrong, a long time skip and 6-time Brier competitor, even though he is currently ineligible, and not in the top 5 in shot execution. Having an Armstrong, or a similarly knee-wrecked Pal Trulsen, call the game would be a huge advantage over teams skipped by players limited in experience to the six years or so of this sport's existence.

Coaching Tip

Don’t take a shot unless the rock is positioned exactly where you want it. Wheelchair users may have difficulty precisely positioning their own rocks, a problem compounded if the “bracing” procedure to keep their chair steady through delivery, has already happened.

The temptation is not to cause a fuss; to either throw from an incorrect position, or try to compensate during delivery. Either way means a poor shot, and if you know a shot will be poor before you take it, save your energy.

Make a note of exactly where you need the rock to be in relation to (say) your front wheel. Note the orientation of the handle that works for you, and insist that is always the same. That’s the only way to develop a consistent delivery and improve your game.

Access

An Ontario club preparing a renovation grant request asked what I thought was the most persuasive argument for encouraging wheelchair access. I replied, curling clubs are an important social and recreational resource in Canadian culture that should be open to everyone, not just those who don’t use wheelchairs.

Let me know about your local efforts to encourage wheelchair participation.


Eric Eales - Kelowna,January 2008

 
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