in SWEEP! d-Mag
- Issue 6
- February 2010)
On March 13th Canada
will defend their 2006 Torino gold medal in the Olympic arena where a
year ago they won their first World Championship. Their opponents are
the nine teams with the most qualifying points from the last three
Canada has 6-time Brier competitor Jim Armstrong at skip. Lead, Sonja
Gaudet, has the most reliable draw shot in the game, according to
national coach Joe Rea. Ina Forrest and Darryl Neighbour at second and
third, are regularly at the top of the
international stats sheets.
What could go wrong?
Well, Armstrong's version of Her Majesty's annus horribilis, with family
bereavement, shoulder surgery, and a car crash delaying the start of his
season. A recent accident has re-injured his non-throwing shoulder,
causing neck stiffness that limits his mobility.
Nevertheless, he expects to play, "It would take a gun to stop me now,"
he said recently . But
while the coach insists the team has prepared for every eventuality,
they are banking on Armstrong's 40 plus years curling; not only for his
skipping skills, but also his throwing. As Rea says: "Who better, with
all his experience, to throw the final stone?"
Canada have rebuilt since Torino, with Sonja the only holdover. They've
played as a unit for over a year, with alternate Bruno Yizek the one
change from last season
Two trips to Europe and regular training camps have allowed the team to
try out different game plans, not all successful, admitted Rea. "We've
tried different things this season and have settled on a game plan we
think works for us. We may alter it slightly depending on ice
conditions, but essentially we'll be coming into the house early,
keeping the front clean, and throwing 9 second takeout weight to remove
the ice as a factor."
No secret there; it's exactly how Canada finished at the 2009 Worlds,
over-powering their three play-off opponents.
The squad has also spent time with the University of Alberta's top
secret Own The Podium financed performance evaluation and enhancement
program. "We were able to adjust a lot of things that were
bio-mechanically incorrect," claimed Phys. Ed. lecturer
Prospects - shock if not in play-offs, surprise if they don't
Great Britain, in contrast to Canada, made just one change from the
Torino team who saw a gold medal flash away.. Aileen Neilson throws last
rocks, replacing Frank Duffy, who retired. Michael McCreadie skips but
remains at 3rd, and Angie Malone and Tom Killin return at lead and
Two years ago the team began an experiment that moved their delivery
point back from the hogline.
Coach Pendreigh describes it as a "skill acquisition project" and
professes surprise at the skepticism it has provoked.
"While we deliver softer weights from the back to allow us to use split
times and gain the use of all the ice, we still have the ability to move
to the front (for takeouts). This (gives) the team a larger range of
shots ... The performance dip which was expected and managed may well
have cost us (Worlds medals) but we all believed our long term goal of
achieving a top 4 spot at the Games was a worthwhile sacrifice.
"The team are much more comfortable with their new found talents and
their understanding of the game and each other. Should we play anything
close to our potential then all the work and effort will have been made
all the more worthwhile.
"We relish the opportunity to play to Canada in the first game. I
suspect there will be a degree of expectation on their shoulders and a
passionate crowd with similar expectations……..I think it is therefore a
good time to play Canada, but we have to play all the teams at least
The GB team (all Scots) curl full-time. Aileen joins a group who have
played and won at international level for many years, though Michael
McCreadie, for all his playing experience, is one of the tournament's
From the outside it appears Pendreigh took an unnecessary gamble
changing delivery points. A subsequent rule change means everyone's
stones can now be placed up to 6 inches off centre at delivery, and the
further the rock has to travel, the more opportunity it has to go
Prospects - On the podium if the experiment works. Exile to England for
the coach if it doesn't.
Norway brought in a Dane, Per Christensen, to coach a team lacking in
self-confidence after a disappointing 6th place in the 2009 Worlds not
helped by lack of local ice, since solved.
"They have the mental toughness, the willpower, to overcome these
problems and they do not give up before the last stone. That is their
strength," he said after announcing an unchanged squad.
"The team has been on a constant curve, which should peak at the
Paralympics. They have played better and better during the season,
winning January in Perth.
"Though it was difficult for the team in the beginning, our practices
and adopting new tactics mean now I have a strong team and we are coming
to Vancouver to play for Gold. No less, They were World Champions in
2007 and 2008. It will of course not be easy, All the participating
teams can win, with Canada as favourites. Our first goal is to get to
the play-offs. After that anything can happen.
"Will we play Canada differently than other teams? I say we play our own
game ... we will set up our play according to which team we are meeting.
I have to find their weak sides and then play to them."
Norway is a team with proven athletes from other disciplines. They have
an excellent record against Canada, winning a game potentially critical
to both teams in the last round robin draw of the 2009 Worlds.
Christensen is confident Canada can be beaten. Norway have never posted
impressive stats, but if their new coach adds improved execution to a
plan that doesn't allow Canada to dictate the play, their knack of
pulling out wins makes them serious contenders.
Prospects - play-offs, as the team you won't want to meet.
Sweden also have a new coach, multi-World Champion Tomas Nordin. He
teams with a very experienced skip, Jalle Jungnell, who won bronze in
Torino and silver with this squad last March. Nordin may bring some
sophistication to a side that got sucked into attempting low percentage
back 12 hits in their 2009 final loss to Canada.
Nordin has been away from the game for several years and was unfamiliar
with wheelchair curling when he took the job. Jim Armstrong has remarked
how steep he found the learning curve transitioning from the able-bodied
game. The question for Sweden is has the coach had time to absorb the
differences and raise Sweden's game enough to win it all?
Prospects - play-offs if their maturity at skip is complimented by
strategic and tactical improvements learned from one of curling's great
Germany came to the 2009 Worlds through the Qualifying Competition,
posted the best round robin record (7-2) and won bronze, albeit on a
spectacular fluke re-direction of the
games last stone.
They have an ebullient skip, Jens Jäger, a wonderful attitude and great
fans who sing the team song. They also have a rare quadriplegic, Marcus
Sieger, at third. What's needed for the next step?
"Good question," says coach Helmar Erlewein "The most important point is
to maintain concentration from the round robin to the semi-finals. This
was our big problem in 2009. We were not able to come back into the game
as we wanted. But we are working on that.
"I don’t think that we will play Canada differently than other teams. We
have a master plan which we can vary if required. Final decisions will
be made from game to game."
Prospects - Performance this year has been spotty. They'll do well to
finish above 500.
USA lean on their emotional skip, Augusto 'Goose' Perez, whose
self-belief walks a fine line short of arrogance. He lives for the
opportunity to make what Russ Howard describes as the "hero shot."
Team dynamics and communication have been a focus of preparation, Team
Leader Marc DePerno said: "The extensive amount of time spent together
has further reinforced team harmony.
"They devoted significantly more time and energy to their training
regimen this season. The team has participated in dozens of bonspiels
against elite level able-bodied and wheelchair athletes which has
resulted in marked improvement in their strategy and shot making
If USA play as a unit and position their early stones, they have a last
rock thrower ready to rise to the big occasion.
Prospects - with a good start USA could - go - all - the - way, but
should be happy to break 500 and possibly make the play-offs.
Korea scared everybody at the 2008 Worlds when they introduced a
super-hitting style and smashed their way into the final. No one could
match their hit weight. At last year's Worlds, neither could Korea, at
least not accurately. The better teams adjusted to Korea's hitting game,
and their coach seemed despondent that his team, who he had only met at
the Championship, seemed unwilling to listen to his suggestions.
Korea played in the Richmond BC Cashspiel last November, finishing
second to Canada. Success in Vancouver will likely depend on whether
they have been able to add a draw game to their deadly hitting.
Prospects - with the element of surprise gone and teams no longer afraid
of their hitting, no better than mid-table.
Italy arrived just before the start of last year's Worlds, began 4-1,
beating Canada, then crashed to 4-5 as lack of fitness and experience
took its toll. They have the skill to win as they proved by beating
Germany in the 2010 Identa
Cup but have comparatively little international experience or
Prospects - they will do well to equal last March's record.
Japan has an average age of 51. Takashi Hidai (2nd) is 75, Japan's
oldest Paralympian and the Games' oldest athlete. They made a short
visit to BC in November, winning their one exhibition game
against Canada 8-3.
They failed to qualify for last year's Worlds, earning their Paralympic
spot on the strength of a 5th place in 2007.
They are all members of the Shinsyu Chair Curling Club that won the last
five Japan Wheelchair Curling Championships. with skip Nakajima
participating in each one.
Over 100 members of the Japanese media attended the send-off ceremonies
for Japan's Paralympic team, but while media interest is high, it's
doubtful they'll out-perform the 2007 team.
Prospects - an unknown quantity but unlikely to prosper against much
more experienced opposition.
Switzerland completely rebuilt their team around skip Manfred Bollinger
after going 3-6 on home ice at the 2008 Worlds. In 2009 they did worse,
and will have to re-qualify in 2011. Bollinger is an excellent
shot-maker, though he damaged his hand late in the year and withdrew
from the team's last spiel.
Prospects - unable to do worse than last year.
Predictions - Canada won the 2009 Worlds because they made their shots,
coaxed their opponents into low percentage hits and always had a viable
shot with skip stones.
I expect Canada, Sweden, Great Britain (aka Scotland) and Norway to have
made the biggest improvements over last year, with GB having the largest
potential for improvement.
Germany and USA over-performed last year and may struggle to keep up.
Korea need to do more than hit. Japan replaces China from the 2009
Worlds line-up and with Italy and Switzerland will have to re-qualify
for Worlds play. None of the three have shown they could challenge this
Final standings: Canada, Norway, GB, Sweden, USA, Germany, Korea, Italy,
Eric Eales - Kelowna,