Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A look back at the Paralympics

Team Canada 2010
Jim Armstrong Darryl Neighbour, Ina Forrest, Sonja Gaudet, Bruno Yizek
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 press hailed the Darryl and Jim show, while the Okanagan press celebrated Ina and Sonja and we all see what we want to see.

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 sat far alone at 66%. The best skips shot in the mid 50s. For all the celebration of the many excellent shots made, and while there was probably an improvement over Torino, it remains stubbornly difficult to break out of the 50% range as a back end player.

There are shot by shot analyses available on the Vanoc website, so I am not going to report on specific games. Here's some general thoughts on what it might all mean going forward

Canada were everyone's pick to win gold though they quivered a little at the end. Korea stole to within one from an 8-1 deficit and Armstrong faced as consequential a last rock shot as Great Britain's Frank Duffy did four year's ago in Torino. He didn't miss, and the Canadian coaches will feel vindicated in their decision to parachute him into the team.

I hope Jim sees his future as advancing the sport outside of the cocoon of national team player.  I'd like to see him get his coaching credentials and become 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. This win gives the CCA another window of opportunity to capitalise on a gold medal, an opening missed after Torino.

Despite a small athlete pool, and reportedly training on ice frozen in a disused swimming pool, Korea arrived in Vancouver having added draw weight to their legendary hitting. They also brought a new delivery style to the ice. Most wheelchair curlers begin with their shoulders square and end with their throwing shoulder forward, Korea reversed that, crossing their non-throwing arm to the throwing side before delivery, unfolding to end with shoulders square after throwing.

I suspect we are at the early stages of delivery motion analysis. Canada had a top secret delivery optimisation program that has Ina Forrest curling her body and then exploding out of her chair. It looks ugly, but Forrest was the All-Star second.

Sonja Gaudet has learned to use the off-side brace that I've been advocating for several years now, an adaptation of which Team Alberta coach Tony Zummack has added to each of his team's chairs. It increases stability when throwing up-weight. "This will be standard equipment on all chairs in a year or two," Zummack claims.

I watched Sweden play Korea in Draw 2 and they looked frustrated and dispirited. They went on to lose another before switching skip Jalle Jungnell with Glen Ikonen. They then won five of six to make it to a tie-break, including wins over USA and Canada. Then Ikonen was suspended for using a banned blood pressure medication that he had been using openly for years.

Patrik Kallin stepped into 2nd and Jalle moved back to last rocks, and Sweden beat Italy, lost to Canada and won bronze over USA despite their skip averaging just 45% shooting, 8th best on the week. Something went right for them, and it may have been the influence of their new coach, Tomas Nordin.

USA fell just short again but played with a much more cohesive spirit than last year. Skip Perez is maturing. He's ready to admit errors, a vital first step to fixing them, and will only get better as he learns more about calling the game.

I'll admit to being completely wrong about Italy. Not only did they beat Canada to earn a tie-breaker, but had an All-Star at 3rd, and were the only team to shoot over 60%,

I had Great Britain and Norway as two of the teams with the greatest potential for improvement over the past year, although with the caveat for GB that they had, as their coach suggested, mastered the drop-back delivery position.

Great Britain are full time curlers with an experienced international coach. Yet after another 3-6 performance no one has mentioned that perhaps throwing further adds unnecessary difficulty. Coach Pendreigh took the time to explain to me before Vancouver how his approach, though treated with scepticism by everyone else, was the right one.

Mid tournament, Michael McCreadie, who had carried his country’s flag at  the opening ceremonies, was having to defend Aileen Neilson, his 4th rock thrower's performance after she failed to break 40% in three of her first four games. It seemed obvious before and equally obvious now that throwing further makes accuracy more difficult, but with so much time, money and probably reputation tied up in Pendreigh's experiment it may take, if not exile to England, then a change in personnel before a mistake is admitted.

Norway imported coach Christensen from Denmark but though they played Canada tough and beat Korea, two losses on the final day including a give-up loss to a weak Swiss side, ended their tie-break chances. Though their team was not announced until the last minute, it was unchanged. Changes may be in order for them to recapture the form that won back to back Worlds just two years ago.

I placed Germany in the also-rans and take no satisfaction at seeing them 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 at the end of the year at the 2011 Worlds qualifying Tournament, and must finish in the top two have a chance to win points towards the next Paralympic Games in Russia 2014.

There were decent crowds at the games, and some coverage on, where you'll find some games in the archive. The CCA, despite publishing a press release promising daily "Insider" insights into Team Canada, offered no coverage other than a link to the Vanoc website. 

There were plenty of statistics if you knew how to extricate them, and the occasional general interest news report, but no interviews, no press releases, no narratives, no context - another opportunity missed to publicise the sport at minimal expense.

A final thought: knowing and liking the Team Canada members I welcome their success. They worked hard and deserve it. 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, and putting Jim at skip was perceived as the only way that Canada could guarantee a win.

I disagree.


Eric Eales said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael McCreadie said...

You are a lone voice worldwide when it comes to articles and results etc. You do say what you feel regarding our superb sport. You are passionate and that comes through loud and clear in your reports, which is admirable. Questions and issues are raised on the blog by others and yourself, many controversial. GB and Scotland are often targets. I have no problem with that. You do praise as well as criticise. Debate is healthy and should be encouraged. The sport has and is changing and will continue to do so. Keep up the life-line to many interested players and associates, it is valued.

Goose Perez said...

Eric, like always thank you for your blogs....i always welcome the criticism which it can only make us better......
Congrats to all the medal these Games we have seen some great shot making which i hope let people see that wheelchair curling it is as fun and exciting as able body......i hope every one had a safe trip home and maybe i see them next year......only time will tell
good curling

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.