The Chinese women’s curling team made a stop at the Four Seasons Curling Club in Fogerty Arena in Blaine last week for a tune-up ahead of a tournament or Summerschpeil scheduled in Fort Wayne, Ind., last week.
The Chinese team handed reigning national champions, Team USA Allison Pottinger a 5-4 loss, Aug. 11, which was preceded by a defeat of 2012 national champion USA Team Erika Brown.
China’s squad included Liu Yin, Yilun Jiang, Yue Q. Sh., Zhou Yan and head coach Marcel Rocque.
Rocque is a four-time Canadian national champion who has been amazed by the level of dedication to the sport by the Chinese people.
Curling took off in China within the last 10-12 years and is growing at a similar rate as the U.S., Rocque said.
“Consider that they never played the game before,” he said, ready to rattle off impressive results from an emerging group.
In 2008, a women’s team made the world finals; in 2009 the team won the worlds and 2010, China won an Olympic bronze medal. “No other country’s development has occurred that quickly,” Rocque said. “It’s a testament to the Chinese and the way they approach business. I don’t know anyone else who works harder at something.”
World class ice
Less than a year old, Rocque praised the condition of the Fogerty Arena ice, given the time of the year, when humidity and heat can wreak havoc on the frozen surface that is vastly different from that of a frozen pond or hockey rink.
“This is world-class in terms of ice-making skills,” Rocque said about the new facility and work by ice maker Todd Birr and his staff. “People have a treat here and they don’t even know it. This is equal to national-level competition ice. So people here are competing on a real nice surface. It’s not a common thing for curling club ice.”
To be able to provide world class-level ice in the summer takes a certain level of skill.
“The ice maker here deserves a raise. This ice is fantastic,” Rocque said.
He praised Birr’s talent, especially under the less than ideal conditions to create ice in Minnesota’s August heat.
Having a year-round facility like that in Blaine can only help fuel the growth of the game across all ages and levels, Rocque said.
Another reason Rocque planned to practice in Blaine was the proximity to Fort Wayne, Ind. “This was a natural pit-stop for us and we’re only a short flight away [from Indiana],” he said.
Growing the game
The opposite is occurring in Canada where clubs and venues are closing due to a lack of interest and participation.
“The potential and future of the game is really healthy both here and in China,” Rocque said.
The Chinese team hopes to build off the training sessions and tournaments in North America ahead of next February’s Sochi Olympic games, according to Rocque, an Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, native who is coaching outside Canada for the first time.
“It’s a testament to how the Chinese approach business,” Rocque said. “I don’t know anyone who has more dedication or works harder than the Chinese and this team to get better.”
At the same time, he said he’s learning as much from them as they are learning from him. A recently retired curler after a 30-year playing career. Rocque played on Team Ferbey also known as the Ferbey 4 that won three world titles and five consecutive Canadian national titles.
The biggest challenge for Rocque and the rest of the squad is bridging the language barrier. Fortunately, he received a minor degree as a second-language teacher from university.
Rocque picked up on phrases like “good shot,” “good morning” and “good afternoon” to get the basic messages across during practice or matches. He’s also encouraged the team to pick up English phrases, but they use a translator whenever possible.
The universal language of acting out phrases like a sweeping motion, stop, etc. helps get a point across immediately as the team has its fifth non-Chinese head coach in program history in Rocque.
Aside from the language barrier, Rocque said the team developed its own technique of moving down the ice during a recently completed six-week training period in China.
Typically, players with the broom, called sweepers or sweeps, have one tacky or gripper shoe and one slick shoe. The Chinese learned to play the game without a gripper typically used to propel teammates across the surface.
“These people figured out, on their own, from what they saw on TV how to sweep [with slick shoes] on both sides,” Rocque said about the reverse technique from how much of the curling world plays. “It’s fascinating to see the dynamics develop naturally.”
Lui Yin, a native of the Harbin-area where many winter sports are played, picked up the game in 2000 and the stop at Four Seasons Curling Club was her first stop in America. She said the passion for the game and to ultimately win an Olympic gold medal is the ultimate goal for the still young group.
After the Fort Wayne tournament, the Chinese team will head to Edmonton to train for one month before participating in another tournament. After that the team travels back to Asia for the Chinese Open in Beijing where the top eight countries in the world will compete in the nation’s largest arena.
As for Four Seasons Curling Club, national and international teams will continue to train and compete in Blaine, especially with the Winter Olympics six months away. Five American teams looking to compete in the United States Olympic Trials will return to the facility for more training Aug. 23-25. World silver medalist and former Olympian Cassie Potter will play Team Fogerty made up by Birr and 2010 Olympian John Benton among other Fogerty staff in a free exhibition match Aug. 24 at 7:30 p.m. Three more exhibition matches will follow Aug. 25 starting at 9:30 a.m.
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