Curling: Chinese expected to hold sway at Naseby

Chinese women's skip Bingyu Wang trains at the Dunedin Ice Stadium. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
Chinese women's skip Bingyu Wang trains at the Dunedin Ice Stadium. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
The red flag is expected to scale the top of the flagpole as China seeks to retain its titles at the Asia-Pacific championships at Naseby starting tomorrow.

The Chinese men's team has won the gold medal in the last five years and the women have won gold in five of the last six years.

When the championship was last held at Naseby, in 2008, China won both titles. The men beat Japan 8-5 and the women beat Korea 9-4.

The Canadian husband-and-wife team of Lorne and Chris Hamblin became coaches of the men's team last year when it beat New Zealand 5-2 in the final and came sixth at the world championships this year.

"The players are very dedicated and have put a lot of effort into the sport," Chris Hamblin said.

"They put a lot of time into preparing for the events."

The Chinese players are fulltime curlers and this makes it easier for them to perfect their technique.

The women's team won the world title in 2009 but dropped back to 11th this year.

"It's a battle to stay at the top and the women are trying to get back there," Chris Hamblin said.

"The men haven't made it yet and our goal is to get them there."

The women have experience - four members of the team are in their 10th year with the national squad.

Three Chinese men have been with the national team for eight years. These players did not make the team last year because they were beaten in the final of the Chinese championships. But the Canadian coaches changed the system and selected the best players for this year's world championships, where China finished sixth.

Lead Jialiang Zang (29), third Xiaoming Xu (29) and skip Rui Liu (30) are back in the team.

The Chinese teams spend time in Canada each year to get high-level competition. The men's team was there for eight weeks and competed in seven different events to gain experience.

China is attempting to build depth and expand the number of elite curlers.

"They send strong teams to international junior events and have 12 players in both the men's and women's squads at our camps," Chris Hamblin said.

On the recommendation of the Canadian coaches, two men's and two women's teams were sent to competitions in Canada.

"It was great for their development because they need to experience high-level curling in Canada and in other places around the world," Lorne Hamblin said.

Curling only became a significant sport for China after it became an official Winter Olympic Games sport in 1998.

There are still only 300 registered curlers in China but the sport has been given a lot of support by the Government.

"They are trying to introduce the sport to all of China," Lorne Hamblin said.

When the Asia-Pacific championships were held in Nanjing last year, the final was on national television and watched by 10 million viewers.

The Government was using the high-profile teams "to try and promote the game to the general population", Chris Hamblin said.

The coaches approved of the surface at the Dunedin Ice Stadium, rating it as world-class.

New Zealand Curling chairman Sam Inder said the international ice-making team would make sure the ice at the Maniototo International Curling Rink at Naseby was kept in top condition.

Kazakhstan will compete at the championships for the first time and Mongolia has sent its officials to Naseby and will be officially voted in as a member of the Asia and Pacific Federation.

World Curling Federation president Kate Caithness, of Scotland, will be in Naseby. She is the first female president of the federation and the first female president of an Olympic winter sports federation.

The winner and runner-up in the men's and women's events will qualify for next year's world championships where Winter Olympic qualification points will be earned.

The Asia-Pacific curling championships start tomorrow and the finals will be played on Sunday week.


Fact File
Chinese curling

Women's record: World champions 2009; Asia-Pacific champions 2006-09, 2010.

Men's record: Asia-Pacific champions 2007-11.

Teams
Women:
Bingyu Wang (skip), Yin Liu (third), Qingshuang Yue (second), Yan Zhou (lead), Jinli Liu (alternate).

Men: Rui Liu (skip), Xiaoming Xu (third), Jialiang Zang (lead), Dexin Ba (second), Dejia Zou (alternate).