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(published in SWEEP! Magazine - December 2008)

Canada in form in run-up to Worlds

International competition
With the Paralympics just 16 months away, wheelchair curling's international calendar has become so busy that national teams are having to pick and choose which events to attend. Canada and USA both sent two teams to the 4th Annual Cathy Kerr spiel in Ottawa at the end of November,

Jim Armstrong came out on top with a 6-0-1 record, tying with USA 1 in the final draw. Gerry Austgarden posted a 6-1-0 record, and his 8-6 win over 'Goose' Perez's USA I team was particularly sweet. The last time they met, Perez accepted a congratulatory handshake after lead stones in the final end of the 2008 Worlds bronze medal game.

Team Canada 2009 will be chosen on December 4th, in time for the team to play together at the Richmond BC International starting December 9th. (Ed: This decision was subsequently twice delayed until December 17th) Old rivals Scotland will be making their second trip to BC having competed in the first ever international cashspiel in Kelowna back in March 2005.

National teams hoping to participate in Vancouver in 2010 qualify by earning points from competing at the world level. With the prestige of the sport boosted by the Paralympics, more than twenty countries are now vying for entries. Only ten slots are available at each Worlds, so the WCF sponsors a World Championship Qualifying tournament, held this year in Prague, to allocate two of those places to teams not already competing.

To make room, Japan and Russia, competitors at the 2008 Worlds, were relegated; Japan by a cruelly small margin on a pre-tournament draw to the button that was used as a tie-breaker. Both attempted to re-qualify, but only Russia came close to reclaiming their place, losing to Germany in the 1 versus 2 Page playoff game, and then to China for the second slot.

Germany and China will join Canada, Norway, Korea, USA, Italy, Sweden, Scotland and Switzerland at the 2009 Worlds to be held at the new Olympic facility in Vancouver's Hillcrest neighbourhood starting February 21st.

Norway will be looking to claim their third consecutive World Championship and appear to be in good form, winning the 2008 Rolli Cup in Bern, beating teams from Switzerland, Sweden and Scotland. Coach Thoralf Hognestad sees newcomers China, along with Canada and Korea, as his main rivals next year.

Good luck, Chris
Chris Daw fans will be saddened to hear that he broke his hip in an ATV accident; an injury that will take a long time to rehabilitate. Chris, a multi-sport Paralympian and Torino wheelchair curling gold medalist, recently moved to Newfoundland, and had promised that Newfoundland and Labrador would field a team at the 2009 Nationals. We hope that his injury will not prevent him from helping to make that happen.

Club curling
I often get email from clubs wanting to know more about wheelchair curling. Most ask if there’s a stash of cash somewhere for capital improvements, but that’s not necessarily where to start. While accessible washrooms and elevators to the bar are great to have, the essential thing is access to the ice. Many if not most clubs, even the oldest, can have their ice made accessible to a wheelchair user for the cost of a trip to the hardware store and some volunteer labour.

My advice is to start with a wheelchair user who can get to your ice, carried or on their backside if necessary. Then use their presence to pressure funders, whether local sponsors, politicians, or even foundations for the money to improve access. Show potential funders that you have a project already underway, And never, as the late Molly Ivins used to say, let the perfect be the enemy of the good (or even the make-do while you get things going.)

Coaching tip
The three basic skills when throwing a rock are direction, rotation and weight. Rotation is often overlooked at practice time. Forget in-turns and out-turns; they can be confusing, plus they’re opposite depending on which hand you use to throw. Think clockwise rotation, which moves your rock from left to right, and counter-clockwise which moves it right to left. How far it moves depends in part on the number of rotations it makes on its way down the ice.

Predictability is the key. If you throw stones that either struggle to make one complete turn, or spin like a top on their way down the ice, then your skip will not know how far it is likely to curl. Practice a release than makes the stone rotate say 3 turns, give or take, for a draw. You’ll not only have fewer stones lose their turn and travel in completely the wrong direction, but your skip will find it easier to predict where the stone will end up, and will put the broom in the right place more often.

Eric Eales - Kelowna, November 2008



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