Team China

Age is not a problem for Chinese curlers

(China Daily)
Updated: 2010-03-02 09:09
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VANCOUVER, Canada - In most sporting disciplines, the age of 26 is regarded, politely, as being on the more mature side of the spectrum.

Age is not a problem for Chinese curlers

Not so in curling, where the steady hands and temperaments of veterans often prove decisive on the ice.

However, with an average age of 26, the Chinese women's curling team showed youth is not necessarily a stumbling block on the road to success.

In their Winter Olympic debut, the Chinese women bounced back from a semifinal loss to defending champions Sweden to earn a bronze medal, beating Switzerland 12-6 in a shortened eight-end match.

It was China's first Winter Olympic medal in a team event.

"I think our young ages have worked for and against us," said skipper Wang Bingyu. "As we are young, we are aggressive and full of fighting spirit but, on the other hand, we are not mature enough to handle all the situations and we are not always calm. Sometimes we think too simply. At these Games we have learned so much and we are more mature now."

The sport, in which players slide a heavily-polished granite stones down the ice towards the target - known as the "house" - originated in 16th-century Scotland. It did not come to China until 1995, when a group of curling experts from Japan and Canada provided training and equipment.

In a sport where experience is as important as anything, some of the best curlers tend to also be among the oldest.

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At the Turin Winter Olympics four years ago, Scott Baird of the US men's curling team became the oldest Winter Olympian in history, aged 54 years and 282 days. In Canada, a country that typically dominates the sport, the average age of the curlers on the current national women's team is 37.25 years.

But in China, where the sport is still trying to find a niche, the hopes rest with a group of athletes no older than 28.

On the opening day of their Olympic campaign, China, the reigning world champions, lost to Britain 5-4 in the morning session before bouncing back to beat Switzerland 8-6.

En route to the semifinals, they beat the home team, Canada, the 15-time world champions and the eventual silver medalists at the Games - 6-5, but lost to Russia, who finished last but one in the 10-team round robin.

China's Canada-bred coach, Dan Rafael, questioned his players' passion following the shortened 7-4 nine-end loss to Russia.

The young team finally showed its class in the bronze medal match.

"It took a while but the real Team China finally showed up," said Rafael, who shed some tears after the last match.

"We can beat any team if we play like we did today. This is the real style of the Chinese women's team."

The Chinese national team was formed in 2000 but there are only about 100 players in the country and most of them are young.

Despite that, the team has managed to make quick progress on the world stage.

At the 2005 Women's Curling World Championships, China finished seventh on debut. At the 12-team event the following year, the team moved up to fifth. Two years later, China claimed silver at the Worlds and then claimed the ultimate prize last year to rule the world.

"We have been together for 10 years ... not very long. So we have to thank our family and curling fans in China. A lot of people have shown such generosity and kindness and we were glad to be able to reward them with our performance," second thrower Yue Qingshuang said of the bronze medal.