Curling: New Zealand's bad start could ruin its Olympic dream

New Zealand has stumbled at the first hurdle and it could mark the end of their Olympic Games ambitions.

The New Zealand men's team lost its opening game of the Asia and Pacific curling championships to Chinese Taipei 5-4 at the Naseby Indoor Curling Rink yesterday.

The top two teams qualify for the world championships, where teams can gain qualifying points for the Olympic Games.

New Zealand coach Peter Becker admitted it was a setback for the team.

"We should have played better," he told the Otago Daily Times from Naseby. "We got our traditional slow start and it counted against us."

The games are played to a strict 2hr 26min time limit and New Zealand was running out of time when it played the 10th and final end.

After nine ends New Zealand held a slender 4-3 lead but Taipei had the advantage of the last rock.

New Zealand faltered on the last end and it could prove costly at the end of the week.

"We were running out of time and played our stones too quickly," Becker said.

The stones were played with too much weight and went out of the house.

The last rock by Taipei skip Randolph Shen was the clincher.

It took out the remaining two New Zealand rocks that were in the house and Taipei had two stones inside and won the game.

The best New Zealand player was second Scott Becker, who kept his nerve and played steady rocks throughout the game.

The pressure is on the New Zealand team, because it must beat top teams like China, Korea and Japan to stay in the race for the top two spots.

It was a tight game, with no points scored by either side on four of the 10 ends. Taipei opened the scoring with a two on the fourth end.

New Zealand gained its first points on the sixth end and it trailed 2-1. A one and a two on the eighth and ninth ends gave New Zealand the lead 4-3 before the final end.

The men play only one round robin of six games and the top four teams then play in the best-of-three-games semifinal.

"The round robin game counts for one of these games," Peter Becker said.

The New Zealand women's team lost to Korea 8-4 but that loss is not as critical because the women play two full rounds before the playoffs.

New Zealand started well and led 3-1 after four of the 10 ends. It was still in front two ends later, 4-3.

But Korea then took a stranglehold on the game by scoring five shots on the next three ends, to lead 8-4.

The strong Chinese team is expected to retain the women's gold medal it won last year. It displayed its dominance when it outplayed Australia 11-2.

The sixth end was the clincher when China gained four shots to lead 11-2. There was no need to play the last four ends.

In the other women's game, Japan beat newcomer Kazakhstan 10-2 with the game ending after seven ends.

In the men's competition, China beat Japan 8-3. China led 4-3 after eight of the 10 ends but rammed home the advantage by scoring one and three on the last two ends.

Australia made the same mistake as New Zealand when it rushed its last end and lost to Korea 9-8.

Veteran skip Hugh Millikin played aggressively to give Australia an 8-7 lead after nine ends.

But it conceded two shots on the final end.

Three rounds will be played at the Naseby Indoor Curling Rink today.