Sports / China

Upward curve for China's curling

By Yang xinwei Updated: 2012-11-10 06:19

No team or individual can resist the temptation of winning an Olympic medal. And those who have succeeded before are often the most eager.

The Chinese women's curling team is no exception.

The prospects are looking good for the 2009 World Championships winner and 2010 Vancouver Olympic bronze medalist, after it lost to Olympic silver medalist Canada 7-5 in the final of the 2012 Yichun International Ladies Curling Invitational tournament on Tuesday, an event the team saw as a precious chance to sharpen its skills in order to qualify for the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.

The Yichun tournament, in its third year, also attracted defending Olympic champion and world No 1 Sweden, and Olympic fourth-placed team Switzerland, Denmark and the United States plus Team Youth China and the local side in an eight-team competition.

"This tournament provides us with the chance to gain an overall assessment of the team, especially to find out what our problems are," said Zhao Yinggang, director of the China Winter Sports Administrative Center.

After Vancouver, veteran third stone Liu Yin left the team and went to study abroad. Her absence took its toll on the Chinese team as it finished a worst-ever 11th at the World Curling Championships in Canada in March. Liu, 31, was called back to the team in July with the initial aim of qualifying for the Olympics. The Yichun event was a reunion event, of sorts, for the side.

"We regard the preparation for the Sochi as an important Olympic project and a systematic one," said Zhao. "From macro to micro elements, we are doing our best, as many other countries do.

"We are going through an all-round preparation in order to improve our technical level. And more importantly, we want to find out the existing problems and then conduct target training. Taking part in this Yichun tournament can help us meet our requirements," Zhao said during the event, adding achieving a good result in such a high-level tournament would also help the team.

The absence of Liu upset the balance of a team many billed as a championship-caliber one. Members of the third stone changed frequently and rarely performed well.

While getting married and earning a college education, Liu said she rarely trained in the United States in her year away from team, apart from some jogging in the gym. After helping the team rout the US 9-1 in the opening match, Liu said she still had not found her touch, though the team was on the way up.

"I believe I will get better and better and we will qualify for the Sochi Winter Olympics," said Liu.

To do that, Team China had to reach the final of next week's Pan-Pacific Curling Championships in order to qualify for the 2013 World Championship. China now needs to reach the final four to directly qualify for the Olympics, otherwise it has to take part in a final qualifying competition.

"We are fully prepared for the difficulties ahead," said team skipper Wang Bingyu after the final. "Even if we fail at the World Championships, we still have chances in the qualifications."

Fortunately, the team's Olympic prospects look good after it narrowly lost to Canada in the final of the Yichun tournament.

Still, the road to Olympics will by no means be smooth. But Zhao remains philosophical.

"The future of curling in China is as important as the Olympic prospects," he said. "We have cities such as Yichun which pay lots of attention to curling development, I have no doubt curling will enjoy healthy growth in China."

Considering China currently only has four standard curling halls — two in Harbin and one each in Beijing and Yichun — its achievements in the sport are praiseworthy. Besides the women's 2009 World Championship gold and the Olympic bronze, the Chinese men's curlers are also winning respect; they finished sixth at the 2012 World Curling Championship in Canada.

"More and more people are taking to the curling lanes, and through the Yichun tournament, more Chinese are starting to learn about the sport," said Zhao. "Curling does have its limitations due to a lack of venues, but we have achieved a lot in the promotion of the sport."

While the northeastern city Yichun has set itself the target of becoming the nation's curling capital, the southern metropolis of Shanghai is also building a two-lane curling hall and plans to set up its own team for the National Winter Games.

Zhao said the center is conducting the project to move winter sports from the north to the south, in the hope of developing winter sports such as curling in South China where the economy is enjoying faster growth.

"To popularize the sport, we need to let more people know about it and let them watch curling competitions," said Zhao. "Luckily enough, more and more cities and provinces in South China have started their winter sports programs. I believe Shanghai is just a start."

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