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Why I publish wheelchaircurling.com and its sister blog
plus a brief history of the sport in Canada

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Wheelchair curling hasn't been around very long - the late 90s in Europe and since 2002 in Canada. Its inclusion as a Paralympics sport at the Torino Games in 2006 spurred the attention of national and regional curling associations, especially in Canada where a team skipped by Chris Daw brought home the first gold medals. In March 2009, in the first competition to be held in the new Olympic curling facility in Vancouver. Canada won their first World Championship.

While Canadians celebrate these successes, in a country where even the smallest community has curling ice, our sport has not yet caught the imagination of wheelchair users. CCA sponsored programs like Discover Curling, and corporate sponsorship for grassroots development from TSX will help, but change, if it comes, will blossom from the efforts of club curlers making their clubs wheelchair accessible and inviting wheelchair users to participate in our great sport.

With the Paralympics Winter Games to be held in British Columbia in March 2010, attention is again focused on fielding a competitive national team. But we need more than a successful national team if wheelchair curling is to take its rightful place as an inexpensive and accessible winter recreation, the winter recreation of choice for Canada's wheelchair users.

The resources of this site are dedicated to that goal. My own views as expressed in my columns for SWEEP magazine can be found in the articles section. I also contribute to the discussion of news items posted here and mirrored with opportunity for comment on the wheelchair curling blog.

Gerry Peckham, the CCA's High Performance Coach remarked (September 2007) that he and his coaches were still on a journey of understanding just how different wheelchair curling is from the able-bodied game. Jim Armstrong, a 6-time Brier competitor and skip of Team Canada 2009, agrees that wheelchair curling, with the absence of sweeping, is not merely a version of the able-bodied game but a completely different sport.

This is an understanding I have been encouraging here for six years now. Change is happening, albeit slowly, and you are welcome to contribute your ideas to the process.

In the meantime I invite you to visit the wheelchair curling blog, where you'll find photos accompanying many of the posts, and where there is also an opportunity to comment.

I'll leave you with a brief history of curling in Canada, and a rundown on how the game is played.

See you on the ice,
Eric Eales
February 23, 2010

Wheelchair Curling in Canada

Wheelchair curling is played on the same ice with the same rocks and under the same rules as regular curling, though without sweeping. Stones are delivered from a stationary wheelchair with the outer edge of the stone being within 18 inches of the centre line at release.

WCF and CCA sanctioned events are played over 8-ends (69 minutes a side) and athletes must require use of a wheelchair for their daily mobility. Teams must be of mixed gender.

Click on this link to see the complete WCF rules that guide CCA sanctioned events.

WCF Rules for wheelchair curling (pdf) (txt)

Wheelchair curling started in Canada in 2002 when a team of Ontario athletes skipped by London’s Chris Daw challenged the Europeans at the 2002 World Championships in Sursee, Switzerland.

Their initial success, silver in 2002 and bronze in 2004 also in Sursee, prompted other provinces to begin their own programs; BC in 2003, Manitoba in 2004 and Alberta in 2005.

The inaugural Canadian National Championship was held in London, Ontario in 2004 when two BC teams challenged Team Canada and Ontario. Daw’s Ontario based Team Canada won, and successfully defended their title the following season when they competed against Ontario, Manitoba and BC.

Team Canada’s squad was shaken up after a 6th place finish at the 2005 World’s in Scotland. Three BC athletes joined Ontarians Daw and lead Karen Blachford from Canada’s original national team. Daw won the 2006 National Championship with the team that would go on to win Paralympic gold in Torino the following month.

The 2006 Nationals in Richmond BC was the last time Team Canada competed in a national championship. The CCA had committed to a coach selected squad to prepare for the 2010 Paralympics and chose not to risk the team losing in a national title game. The 2007 National Championship was held in Ottawa. BC won, and defended their title in 2008 in Winnipeg where newcomers Northern Ontario, Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada joined the competition. The 2009 National Championship expanded to nine Provincial and one host team, with BC winning their third successive title.

In 2007 Team Canada was again skipped by Chris Daw, but with an otherwise BC team. They had a disappointing Worlds, losing to Scotland in the bronze medal game. A National Talent Pool (NTP) was formed for the 2008 season from the five Team Canada members, the BC National Champions, and four "talent identified" invitees. Each NTP member was given an opportunity to play in an international bonspiel, and the team for the 2008 Worlds was selected from those who performed best. Chris Daw withdrew before the selection was announced, and Gerry Austgarden and Gary Cormack split skipping duties, while Darryl Neighbour threw 4th stones.

At the 2008 Worlds Canada, 6-3 in round robin play, made the 1-2 Page playoff game, but for the third successive championship failed to reach the podium. They came within an open hit of a medal, but the last rock muse that won them Torino gold deserted them in their semi-final loss to Norway.

Darryl Neighbour (last rocks) and Ina Forrest (2nd) led at their positions in a team 57% performance, second only to Korea's outstanding 60%. (Without sweeping, 50% has been the performance benchmark.) 

Canada just couldn’t find a way to win when it mattered, losing 2-7 to Korea in the playoff, 5-6 to Norway in the semi, and in a game where the coaches share responsibility for a flat performance, 1-8 to USA for bronze.

The 2009 national team represented almost a complete break from the Torino gold medallists. Six-time Brier competitor Jim Armstrong was cleared by the WCF to play after some debate about his level of disability. He skipped Darryl Neighbour, Ina Forrest, Chris Sobkowicz and Sonja Gaudet, the lone holdover from the Torino team. Though posting only a fourth best 5-4 round robin record, they ran out easy winners of Canada's first World Championship, beating USA 9-2, then Germany 10-4 and Sweden 9-2 in the final.

Most wheelchair curlers play in leagues with and against able-bodied curlers, though the game with its use of delivery sticks integrates extremely well with the increasingly popular able-bodied stick curling. Wheelchair curling is not an aerobic activity, and the added involvement of pairs play is proving very popular and may be the impetus for future growth.

If you are unfamiliar with wheelchair curling and would like to know what happens on the ice, CLICK HERE to watch 5 matches from the Torino 2006 Paralympics. (Problems viewing? Read this.)

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