First I want to say that without Cate doing the heavy lifting, the fetching and carrying, the struggling with a lousy internet connection and all the live blog typing our coverage wouldn't have been possible. Plus she worked for two days with a cold that has had me in bed the past three days.
Promised photos never did arrive but yet may. We'll make them more of a priority another time. And a better internet connection would have meant fewer pauses and the ability to run CurlIt side by side with the blogging software. We sat at the level of the coaches, who guessed right along with us just whose rocks sat shot 200 feet away.
One of the reasons I have been keen to attend a Worlds was to meet wheelchair curlers from other countries, and learn how the sport is developing elsewhere. I shared the WCF's Kate Caithness' disappointment with how cloistered coaches chose to keep their squads. While Team Canada were gracious about granting formal interviews arranged in advance, they were invisible off the ice. So too Scotland, the other team with significant national funding. The Germans, who had family in support were the exception. They were one of three club based sides at the championship, keen to win but also interested in what was going on around them. Sweden's skip, Jalle Jungnell also brought a club side and made an effort to show his face, as did Norway later in the week.
There were few spectators, almost no press, a huge empty building and yet somehow most of the 49 international athletes managed to hide themselves away from anyone not competing. That's not a great way to advertise the sport, or pay dues to the spirit of the game. There was a 10 foot barrier behind a curtain that had my pass ever graduated to a green dot would have allowed me to sit, caged, and call to players as they passed. The green dots, available at any stationery store, were the open sesame, but though often promised one never arrived, and frankly we were both too tired to go shopping.
Each sheet had an official who would indicate to the time keepers when clocks should run or stop in the event of confusion. Most teams were unfamiliar with time clocks and there was, according to head official Ian Addison, a level of anxiety early on that clocks might cheat players of precious seconds. In practice, they were a non-issue, with games moving quickly and few teams finishing with less than ten or fifteen minutes to spare.
The other major rule change was widening the delivery zone, and from what I could see, certainly on ice that moved easily four and often six feet, few players paid attention to where their rock was precisely positioned. Often rocks were brought to a chair already in position, rather than in the more logical sequence of the skip deciding where the rock should be, then placing his broom, then having the shooter approach the stone.
In some ways the professionalism of the Canadians felt like overkill in this company. They didn't win all their games because Jim Armstrong took some time to get comfortable throwing, and when he struggled so did the team. I just don't remember an end in twelve games where he didn't leave himself a path into the house.
Most people I spoke to pre-tournament had marked the Koreans as a medal threat, but they are a club side, the Gangdong Dream, and did not take well to having a coach foisted onto them two weeks before the tournament. The coach, a Korean international player in his own right, said the team were not listening to him and had decided to do their own thing. That was mostly hit, regardless of situation.
Most of the teams I watched aside from Canada would have done well to heed Linda Moore's advice that rocks behind the T line can be your friends, especially when you are down 3. Korea played as though this year's event, with a place in 2010 assured, wasn't that important, which is why they had to escape relegation by winning a tie break.
Though I had a gut feeling it wasn't to be Norway's year, I was surprised by how much they struggled. "We just haven't practiced enough," complained coach Hognestad. "The ice we were promised last September is still not there, and we had to travel long distances to practice." But with their backs to the wall Norway are still a dangerous side. They played Canada in the final round robin draw and won, avoiding automatic relegation.
Try as I might I couldn't find anyone with a kind word to say about Scottish coach Pendreigh's plan to throw from the near T-line rather than hogline. Michael McCreadie tells me the players have bought in so they're committed for another year. Hard to see the plan or the coach surviving a poor Paralympics.
Team China were colourful, vocal and had a member who leant so far out of his chair his chin was on the rock handle. Several sides have modified their Adapter delivery slicks to allow the stone to be drawn back before delivery. The low tech solution to the very real problem of rocks sticking at delivery is to tighten the bracket under heat, and apply friction tape to the edges. Practice long before using in competition.
Team USA, who beat Canada on a circus shot that only skip Perez saw, to have a chance at the playoffs, lost a medal they could already feel round their necks by a huge fluke, a last stone German mis-directed 30 foot runback that re-directed to take out USA's shot stone. USA are a very emotional team, and have grown under a very quiet soft-spoken Coach Brown, who handed on duties to the larger than life Rusty Schieber after the first weekend. That had to be a readjustment. The team was inconsistent, and 'Goose' Perez will come to realise that he can't just abandon the draw as he did several times during the week. With playing time on swingy ice, and some intensive training on recognising when to hit and when to draw, USA will put that emotion and fire to good purpose.
But there you have it. All Team Canada need do is match their opponents shooting, and superior game calling will make the difference. And we haven't even got into rock matching, and opponent propensities and all the other skills that Jim Armstrong already brings to the game, and that most other teams can only dream about.
Finally I'll close with a shout-out to the unsung heroes of wheelchair curling, the rock wranglers who gather the stones and wipe them off and without whom the games would last forever. Way to go!
If you've come this far I would like to encourage you to leave a comment or send an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any suggestions on what we could do differently or better when we cover the Nationals in Nova Scotia later this month.