in SWEEP! d-Mag
trophies, different winners.
November has been the
busiest ever month for international wheelchair curling competition.
Korea, Japan, Great Britain and USA have all played in Canada, while
Canada finished the month in Prague.
Honours have also been spread internationally this season. Russia won in
Denmark, Sweden won in Switzerland, Great Britain in Norway, Canada in
Scotland, Switzerland in the Czech Republic and USA in Ottawa.
The month began with the Richmond International Cashspiel, the only four
person team event on this year's calendar offering cash prizes. It drew
six teams to BC, including Korea and Alberta. With Jim Armstrong and
Darryl Neighbour on home ice, Team Canada were unbeaten, outscoring the
big-hitting Koreans 12-6 in the final to take the $1,000 1st prize.
Armstrong is on record as saying that the wheelchair game will follow
the able-bodied game and increasingly favour teams who can throw big
takeout weight. The Koreans clocked several 6 second takeouts, and if
they ever match accuracy to their weight, will be serious challengers.
Armstrong, Neighbour and the Korean squad also competed in a 2-on-2 Open
tournament at Maple Ridge's Golden Ears Club mid-month. It's a format
that remains the most viable for wheelchair users new to the sport.
Curlers either throw or skip in alternate ends, avoiding the lengthy
periods of just sitting around during the four person team game.
In Scotland, where Pairs competition is well established, 19 teams
competed for the
2009 Star Refrigeration National Pairs Championship at Braehead.
While all the members of Scotland's high performance squad competed,
they each played with a teammate with less experience. That's how a
strong national program is developed.
The 2009 Rolli Trophy in Bern saw Sweden top the league table, over
Great Britain, the Swiss host team, Norway and Germany. Jens Jäger's
German side may put their slow start down to attendance at a Berlin
awards ceremony just before the competition, where they won Paralympic
Team Of The Year for their bronze medals at the 2009 Worlds.
Japan, who have qualified for the 2010 Paralympics but did not enter any
of this seasons western tournaments, played an exhibition against Canada
at the Vancouver CC. Under the management of ex-Team Canada skip Chris
Daw the club is now fully accessible on the lower level to wheelchair
Canada were soundly beaten by Japan on extremely fast ice. Perhaps more
worrying for Canadian fans was Daw's observation that Japan seemed to
adjust more quickly to the challenging conditions while Canada struggled
with weight control.
Although Canada remain favourites for Vancouver gold, just as in regular
curling, on a given day any team can beat any other. Finland, who have
never played at a World level championship, showed that by beating
Canada in Prague in what may be the final competitive tournament before
Canada chose to travel to Prague rather than support the Cathy Kerr
Memorial Spiel in Ottawa, because the Prague field was stronger. So it
proved as they suffered an 8-4 semi-final defeat by Switzerland. They
also gave up a 5, the
costliest end in Armstrong's stewardship of the team. Switzerland
went on to defeat Norway 7-1 in the final. This, with one change, is the
same Swiss team that propped up the table at the 2009 Worlds. They have,
however, in Manfred Bollinger, a very accomplished and experienced skip.
US Open, an event that has in the past attracted Scotland and
Canada, was squeezed this year by larger events the following weekend.
Two Ontario teams traveled south to Utica NY and played a double round
robin against two USA teams. USA 1 beat Bruce Cameron's Ottawa side in
the final for the second successive year. USA skip Augusto 'Goose' Perez
pulled off another signature last rock shot, a perfect hit and roll to
the button for a single point and a 5-4 win.
Bruce Cameron's Capital WCC out of the R.A. in Ottawa hosted the 5th
Annual Cathy Kerr Memorial Spiel to bring the 2009 tournament calendar
to a close. Great Britain, two USA teams, Manitoba led by Chris
Sobkowicz, Quebec and five Ontario teams played in the competitive
division, with a further five in a recreational section. This made it
the world's largest ever wheelchair curling tournament.
USA 1 beat last year's Ontario champions Team Gregory 8-6 in one
semi-final. Great Britain, with Michael McCreadie calling the game from
3rd, beat Sobkowicz 6-4 in the other semi, but lost to USA 9-4 in the
final. Gregory took bronze, 9-5 over Manitoba.
The CCA have launched a Take Part; Give it a Go campaign as part of
their Discover Curling awareness initiative. It is aimed not only at
increasing participation for the physically disabled but hopes to
attract people interested in supporting new participants with physical
disabilities. Every club has been sent a poster and copies of a brochure
outlining how to get wheelchair curling started at the club level.
Experience shows that while exhibitions and give-it-a-go days are
appealing, and with a bit of effort can attract local media, it takes
someone at the club level to be committed to welcoming and mentoring
wheelchair users, for a program to flourish. The hardest person to reach
is the first wheelchair user, and the brochure outlines all you need to
know to get started. Posters and brochures are available from the CCA's
a lively debate over who should be eligible to compete in a
wheelchair at events played under WCF rules. A wide range of people use
wheelchairs, from necessity to convenience. With administrative
attention focused on Paralympic glory, wheelchair curling is becoming
the preserve of the super-fit barely non-ambulant, the "best available
athletes" so beloved by organizations such as Canada's 'Own The Podium.'
This troubles long-time Paralympians like GB skip Michael McCreadie, who
has witnessed the gradual drift and recent rush towards the super-fit as
the only candidates worthy of consideration for national selectors,
whose only mandate is winning.
"It's a question of fairness, of regaining the Paralympic ideal of
people across a range of physical abilities being allowed to compete for
their country,' McCreadie says. "I see non-paraplegics giving up, or
worse not bothering to attempt to compete because they get the message
that they have no chance of selection at the highest level."
It is easy to dismiss this argument by assuming high performance
competition requires the least disabled qualified athletes. But the
inclusivity argument is a politically powerful one. WCF vice-President
Kate Caithness told
The Vancouver Sun that what sold the International Paralympic
Committee on wheelchair curling was its promise of mixed gender teams.
Should there be, as McCreadie advocates, two categories of players, such
that every team includes a member who has a more significant degree of
disability than, say, an amputee? Or should the eligibility rules be
written so that wheelchair curling becomes a sport for anyone unable to
curl without using a wheelchair? The matter will be discussed at the
WCF's semi-annual meeting in Aberdeen this December.
My personal opinion is that if Canada's wheelchair curlers were allowed,
like their able-bodied counterparts, to choose their own teams and 'win
to play,' then there might well be a place for a more severely disabled
curler who brings qualities other than physique to the team.
It is interesting to note that the German national team is essentially
an athlete organised club side in which their third, Marcus Sieger, has
flourished despite a level of disability that would have dismissed him
from consideration by Canada's selection system.
Finally I would ask every reader to take a few minutes to discover who
their representatives to the WCF Aberdeen meeting are, and ask them to
insist that the WCF end its disgraceful exclusion of electric
[See Agenda item 22 - Should electric wheelchairs be allowed at World
Wheelchair Curling Championships? WCF Recommendation: Electric
wheelchairs should not be allowed at World Wheelchair Curling
Championships or their qualifying events.)
At the 2009 Worlds I asked WCF President Les Harrison why the ban was in
place. He referred me to Kate Caithness who said she thought it was
because of concerns by the WCF ice-makers, Peter Luk and Jorgen Larsen.
When I spoke to Peter and Jorgen they admitted they had no experience of
power wheelchairs - good or bad.
Dave Merklinger, manager of Vernon CC and one Canada's premier
ice-makers, told me he has had plenty of contact with power chairs and
seen no evidence that they damage the ice surface. His view is shared by
club ice-makers across Canada.
Curlers using power chairs have more than enough obstacles to overcome
without being victimised by discriminatory rules based on impressions
rather than evidence. End the ban now.
Eric Eales - Kelowna,