in SWEEP! Magazine -
It's Championship time
I am writing this just
before I leave for Vancouver to report on the 2009 World Championship.
It's an event Canada have never won, and have not reached the podium
since taking bronze in 2004. Last week Canada coach Joe Rea described
the team goal as reaching the playoffs. USA team leader Marc DePerno
said his team wants gold. Hopefully my blog prediction of gold for
Canada came true.
Regardless of the result, Canada’s Paralympic team will follow the
Olympic team process of late selection. There are advantages to a
settled side with months to prepare, but choosing the players in form
from a squad ready and sharp in the event of illness or injury seems
sensible to me. Though skips must know how their team mates throw,
wheelchair curlers have far less physical interaction than regular
curlers, so practicing as a unit is perhaps less critical.
At the Worlds I’ll be discovering how far curling extends beyond each
national team. Jim Armstrong told the Vancouver Courier that typically a
sport establishes itself at the grassroots before it holds national or
Olympic/Paralympic events. Not wheelchair curling. "They've already got
all the perks like the world championships, the Canadian championship
and appropriate funding," he observed. "Now it just needs more players."
Increasing the player pool is vital if the sport is to move beyond
boutique interest. In Canada we are fortunate to have funding committed
to grassroots development through TSX sponsorship of the CCA’s Discover
Curling initiative, though recruitment remains a challenge.
This year's Canadian Nationals will see almost a full slate of
provincial teams, although not without some controversy. Ontario decided
to allow only one team per region at their provincials, while two are
allowed in other curling categories. Rather than permit teams from any
region up to the maximum eight before scheduling regional playdowns, the
Ontario Curling Association insisted that the two Ottawa teams play for
the right to represent Region One. Reducing the field from five teams to
four sent a discouraging message to those in Ottawa who have worked hard
to expand participation beyond just one competitive team. Disincentives
to existing athletes to grow the sport are unfortunate and not what is
needed at this point in wheelchair curling’s development.
Another issue that deserves attention is the inexplicable and
unexplained ban on the use of electric wheelchairs in World Curling
Federation competition. "We do not allow electric chairs at any WCF
events." said vice president Kate Caithness in a recent email. A follow
up email asking for a reference to the relevant rule or an explanation
of the rationale for the prohibition drew no response.
WCF rule 10a states "No player shall cause damage to the ice surface by
means of equipment, hand prints, or body prints." But according to the
CCA's Gerry Peckham there is no evidence in Canada that electric
wheelchairs cause damage to the ice surface. Dave Merklinger, who makes
ice at Canadian national events and who manages the Vernon CC that
hosted this year's BC provincial championship, also saw no need for the
prohibition. "There were several electric chairs competing here over
three days and I saw no ice damage," he said.
BC, Alberta, and Manitoba will be sending the same teams as last year to
the Nationals in Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia, March 23-28. Jim
Armstrong's BC team are defending champions and include two
quadriplegics who use electric wheelchairs. Calgary's Jack Smart beat
out another Calgary team and two teams from Edmonton for his chance at a
national title. Last year’s skip, Team Canada squad member Bruno Yizek,
moves to third. Current Team Canada lead Chris Sobkowicz moves back to
skip for his Manitoba team, and is quietly confident of improving on
their 2008 bronze.
Saskatchewan held a try-out camp, choosing a provincial team from the
nine who turned up to represent the Callie CC. In Northern Ontario,
Wayne Ficek's Kenora team surprised his Thunder Bay competition by
earning a trip to Nova Scotia via a 3-way playoff. Al Whitier of the
Lennoxville CC in Quebec has worked hard to prepare his small squad for
a first national appearance. Chris Daw has been invited to skip a
Newfoundland and Labrador selected team, and hosts Nova Scotia have held
their selection camp and the players are awaiting notification.
I expect to be online with live interactive blogging throughout the
competition. Look for details on the www.wheelchaircurling.com website
closer to the event.
One of the questions I am most frequently asked by wheelchair curlers is
how, without the traditional national title route to a maple leaf
jacket, players can make themselves known to the national coaches. One
of the ways is to practice the Team Canada drills available at
www.wheelchaircurling.com. They cover draws and hits, and timing where
you are scored on your ability to throw a consistent 13 second draw
weight and a 10 second take-out weight. The coaches are looking for
consistently better than 70% accuracy, and if you can achieve that, then
you have program director Gerry Peckham's word that Team Canada is not a
Eric Eales - Kelowna,