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(published in SWEEP! Magazine - March 2008)

Norway repeat as World Champions 

Defying team statistics, Norway (worst) beat Korea (best) 5-3 in an extra end to retain their World Championship title in Sursee, Switzerland.

Canada, 6-3 in round robin play, made the 1-2 Page playoff game, but for the third successive championship failed to reach the podium. They came within an open hit of a medal, but the last rock muse that won them Torino gold deserted them in their semi-final loss to Norway.

Darryl Neighbour (last rocks) and Ina Forrest (2nd) led at their positions in a team 57% performance, second only to Korea's outstanding 60%. (Without sweeping, 50% has been the performance benchmark.) 

Canada just couldn’t find a way to win when it mattered, losing 2-7 to Korea in the playoff, 5-6 to Norway in the semi, and in a game where the coaches share responsibility for a flat performance, 1-8 to USA for bronze. (Rock by rock diagrams of every game are available on the CurlIT.com website.)

The players returned disappointed not to be wearing medals, but with a Vancouver 2010 entry assured, coaches used this season to experiment.

"We’re still a work in progress," said program director Gerry Peckham. “We put ourselves in a position to win and with experience we’ll learn how to bounce back from tough losses.

"We're aiming to be the world’s best statistical team,” he continued. “To do that we must shoot better, but also show greater situational awareness on the ice, and call the shots most likely to succeed.”

Canada struggled at skip, something Chris Daw supporters will attribute to his absence. (Daw withdrew prior to team selection.)

“Skipping takes experience,” admitted Peckham, “and while both Gerry Austgarden and Gary Cormack (who rotated at skip in Sursee) are working hard at the position, it's a very steep learning curve. Beyond what can be taught, good skips have the ability to draw the best performance from their team.”

Asked if including ex-Brier skip Jim Armstrong would help, Peckham replied. "Yes, but his eligibility depends entirely on personal decisions (relating to daily use of a wheelchair) that Jim makes, dictated by his health."

As for competitors, Peckham said: "Canada is one of 4 or 5 teams with medal potential. Norway's back to back gold is very impressive. They make critical shots with the game on the line, and do not often beat themselves."

Norway's repeat made good on their coach's pre-tournament boast. "Our team has players who are very experienced in other sports," Thoralf Hognestad told a WCF reporter, "and we have the best strategy. We understand there will be misses, so we always have a Plan B. We play wheelchair curling for wheelchair curlers, not for able-bodied strategy."

The Koreans played consistently well on very difficult ice.  An opponent, describing a draw, said, "I hit the broom on the edge of the 12 and it almost slid out the opposite side!"

"Korea is an exceptional team," said Peckham, “especially making shots; particularly take outs. Their stats were most impressive and indicative of a team that plays full time."

USA won their first ever medal and returned brimming with confidence. "This year bronze, next year silver and in Vancouver - gold!" exclaimed skip Augusto 'Goose' Perez.

Qualifiers Italy, who beat Canada 7-0 in the opening draw, began well but faded to 5-4 and a tie-break loss to USA. "We only had one woman on the team," said skip Andrea Tabanelli. (WCF rules dictate a mixed gender team at all times) "It's difficult to play six hours a day. She just got very tired. We all did."

Scotland spoiled the most entries in wheelchaircurling.com's "Pick the Final 4" competition, collapsing to a tied for bottom 3-6 record. Only a last game win over Canada, and a relegation tie-break draw to the button, saved the perennial medal winners from having to re-qualify. Russia and Japan were relegated, Japan by just 73 centimeters, and will have to play in next season's pre-qualifying tournament in Scotland.

Next year's World Championships will be held in the 3,500 seat Hillcrest/Nat Bailey Stadium Park, the Vancouver 2010 curling venue.

Nationals

West Kildonan CC in Winnipeg hosts the 2008 TSX Wheelchair Championship from March 25-29th. Eight teams are scheduled to compete, with Northern Ontario, Nova Scotia and a mixed Team Atlantic joining the competition for the first time. Jim Armstrong (eligible for domestic play) will lead three of last year's coach selected BC national champions, and Chris Daw will play vice for Ken Gregory's Bradford team in a four team Ontario playdown.

Coaching tip

It pays to be on good terms with your ice maker. He (or she) may be willing to change the surface for you so that you can experience different ice speeds; important if you want to compete away from your home rink. Another way to simulate either heavy or fast ice is to create an artificial hogline. Move it forward for "fast ice" and back for "slow."

Eric Eales - Kelowna, February 2008

 
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