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(published in SWEEP! d-Mag - Issue 7 - March 2010)

A BC triple play

Canada won their gold medal, Korea reawakened to the form that saw them runners-up at the 2008 Worlds, Sweden persevered past a miserable start and a tie-break day suspension of their last rock thrower, and USA did not quite go-all-the-way. The Richmond BC press hailed the Darryl and Jim show, while the Okanagan BC press celebrated Ina and Sonja, and we all see what we want to see.

Canada coach Joe Rea said before the Games that Jim Armstrong's major contribution would be throwing 4th stones. And so it was, if not quite in the way he anticipated.

Playing Korea In the final, Canada saw an 8-1 lead shrink to 8-6 with Korea lying two with one Canadian rock to play. It was a last rock takeout attempt as consequential as Great Britain's Frank Duffy faced four years ago in Torino. Jim didn't miss and Canada's coaches will feel the 8-7 win vindicates their decision to parachute him into the team.

There was a noticeable improvement overall at lead, possibly helped by more teams asking their leads to come into the house, inviting hits. All but one lead shot over 60% with half closer to 70%. Ina Forest was the only 2nd over 60% and the Italian 3rd Egidio Marchese was way out on his own at 66%.

The best skips shot in the mid 50s. For all the celebration of the many excellent shots made, it remains stubbornly difficult to break out of the 50% range as a back end player. There are shot by shot analyses and full statistics available on the Vanoc website.

Going forward, I hope Jim gets his coaching credentials and becomes a full-time wheelchair curling ambassador/national coach with a mandate to kick start provincial programs, most of which have stalled at a minimal number of participants.

Korea, despite a small athlete pool, and reportedly training on ice frozen in a disused swimming pool, brought a new delivery style to the ice that left their shoulders square after delivery, rather than before. I suspect we are still at the early stages of delivery motion analysis. Canada's top secret program has Ina Forrest creasing her body and then exploding out of her chair. It looks ugly, but effective.

Sonja Gaudet has learned to use the off-side brace that I've been advocating for several years now, and that has been adapted and added to each of Team Alberta's chairs by Coach Tony Zummack, who thinks it will be standard equipment for everyone soon..

Sweden looked frustrated and dispirited losing their first three games before switching skip Jalle Jungnell with Glenn Ikonen. They then beat USA and Canada in a 5-1 streak to earn a tiebreak with Italy before Ikonen was suspended for failing a drug test.. As only one team member was involved, Sweden were allowed to continue with their alternate Patrik Kallin at 2nd, Jalle moving back to last rocks.
Though Jungnell's shooting stayed in the mid 40s they went on to beat Italy and win bronze over USA, who fell just short again but played with more cohesion than last year. Skip Perez is maturing, has a rock steady delivery and will only get better as he learns more about calling the game.

Italy were the surprise team. Their last draw win over Canada earned them a tie-break against Sweden, they had an All-Star at 3rd, and were the only team to shoot over 60%.

Great Britain went 3-6 again. It seems obvious that throwing back from the hogline reduces accuracy, but with so much time, money and probably reputation tied up in Coach Pendreigh's experiment, it may take, if not exile to England, then a change in personnel before a mistake is admitted.

Norway imported Dane Per Christensen as coach, but though they played Canada tough and beat Korea, they never overcame the fragility that surrendered a final end six and the lead to Germany in the opening draw. Norway have concentrated their resources on a small player pool which makes it tough to make changes to recapture the form that won back to back Worlds just two years ago.

Germany were one of five teams finishing at 3-6. Everything went their way last year, and a bump back to earth may be what is needed for them to move forward. Switzerland and Japan will meet again at the end of this year at the 2011 Worlds Qualifying Tournament.

There were enthusiastic crowds in Vancouver and some coverage on ParalympicSport.tv, where some games are archived. The promised daily "Insider" insights from the CCA never materialised, - an opportunity missed to publicise the sport at minimal expense.

A final thought on the national team. They worked hard and deserve their success. I just wish I felt better about the process Canada used to put the team together. If Jim Armstrong's selection did not break the letter of the law it sailed uncomfortably close to the edge of the spirit of the law. For some, and for Own The Podium who waved the large chequebook, it was all about winning. Recruiting Jim to skip was perceived as the only way that Canada could guarantee a win.

I think that's sad.

The Canadian National Wheelchair Curling Championships were held in Kelowna at the same time as the Paralympics. It was a decision forced on the CCA by lack of alternative, but one that guaranteed that no-one outside of participants, family and friends paid any attention.

The problem was finding a host site. Ten teams of wheelchair curlers present significant logistical challenges to any host committee. In another splendidly organised event, this year's co-chairs Gerry Austgarden and Deanna Tuokko had the advantages of proximity of the host hotel to the curling club, the space for 50 plus wheelchairs to manoeuvre inside the club, a schedule that avoided a three draw day, and almost perfect weather.

Experience showed in the results. The top three teams all had ex-Team Canada players throwing fourth stones, and the teams that reached the play-offs, the BC teams, Alberta and Manitoba, have the longest record of participation in what is now a nine draw Championship.

BC fielded two teams: Team BC, the provincial champions, and the runners up with Gary Cormack skipping a make up the numbers BC Host team. Cormack seemed very relaxed during the week, saying he was "quietly confident" he could beat Team BC. "We beat them in the Provincial round robin," he reminded me.

True to his word, BC Host beat BC 7-1 in the round-robin and 6-4 in the final. It was good to see Host team 2nd Vince Miele win his title on his on-ice performance, rather than physical proximity to the winning team. He's been around since the earliest days and his perseverance won a just reward. 3rd Rich Green and alternating leads Corinne Jensen and Samantha Sui also played their part.

Team BC's Gerry Austgarden will feel disappointed to have fallen just short, losing draw weight at crucial moments. BC lead Alison Duddy played well after just a year curling. Teammate Frank Labounty drove from Prince George to Quesnel throughout the season to coach at her club.

Manitoba's Chris Sobkowicz probably felt, as I did, that this would be his breakthrough year, but was victimised when Gerry Austgarden threw a perfect Plan B freeze that began life as a dubious double tap-back.

Most teams would be delighted with another bronze, but not, I suspect Manitoba. They barely raised a smile all week before claiming three of the four places on the All-Star team. Chris even refused to shake hands with a member of one team that beat them.

Alberta lost their page play-off the same way they lost last year's final, on a last rock hit that rolled an inch too far. Though Anne Hibberd stepped up at 3rd, and Martin Purvis won All-Star at second (he was probably the most improved player over last year) it was clear that Jack missed Bruno Yizek's presence on the ice.

There was a noticeable ability gap between the top three teams and the six teams with losing records. For Ontario it was their first nine-draw tournament, and if they can get past tough provincial opposition next year, they will benefit from this year's experience. Moving skip Bruce Cameron to third for the harder throwing Doug Morris helped but the whole team's statistics suffered as the week wore on.

Nova Scotia proved they can play by being the only team to beat BC Host. They also beat Alberta and lost narrowly to BC and Manitoba. Their problem was losses to bottom of the table Newfoundland and Quebec.

Saskatchewan and Northern Ontario brought the same players but failed to improve on last year. Northern Ontario lost to Ontario 7-5 and had to surrender the John McCrae Trophy, a task handled with grace by their second, Chester Draper, who won the event's Sportsmanship Trophy.

Quebec had a horrible start that dented skip Ben Lessard's confidence, but won their last two games, which made it all the more disappointing that the three male team members chose to leave a day early and did not attend the banquet.

Newfoundland and Labrador brought the same team, minus Chris Daw, with predictable results. With three women on the team it should be possible to grow their provincial program, given that the stumbling block for most provinces is difficulty attracting female curlers.

BC remain the only province to have won a National Championship, albeit with a Host team rather than their provincial Champions. An additional BC foursome winning gold in Vancouver is testament to the comparative depth of talent in the province.

Eric Eales - Kelowna, March 2009



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