Sunday, March 25, 2007

World champs at only “80-85 per cent”

AOMORI, Japan – A morning earthquake here in northern Japan – centered just a few hundred miles away and registering 7.1 on the Richter scale – was a prelude to Canada’s thunderous power on the curling ice.

Canada’s Kelly Scott beat back a revitalized Denmark squad to win the 2007 World Women’s Curling Championship by an 8-4 score, the first adult worlds event ever held in Asia.

“We were on a mission today,” said Scott. “The curling girls were on a mission.”

It marked Canada’s 14th world women’s title, and Scott becomes the only skip in history to win both the world championship and world junior championship. As Kelly Mackenzie, the diminutive skip also won the 1995 junior championship in Perth, Scotland.

Big winners not once but twice against the Danes earlier in the week, the Canadians were in for an early nailbiter as Denmark – comeback winners in the bronze medal game the previous night – came out blazing. Skip rocker Madeleine Dupont was clocking 87 per cent in shooting performance, almost a full 20 points higher than her cumulative average.

Up 4-3 at the halfway point, the Canadians turned it up a notch. Lead Renee Simons buried a stone in the sixth end and it held up for a steal. In the seventh, second Sasha Carter and third Jeanna Schraeder executed brilliantly, and their high-pressure tactics opened an even bigger lead with a steal of two.

The Danes, led by skip Angelina Jensen, could only score a single point through the final four ends, and conceded after Canada scored another in the ninth.

One year ago, Canadian curling fans were calling for Scott’s head on a platter. The team stumbled through the worlds on home ice in Grande Prairie, managing a bronze medal but undergoing withering criticism for aimless strategy and poor shot execution.

Today, following a run of 24-3 in their last two tournaments, Team Scott are clearly the most efficient women’s curling machine in the world.

“So many things happened to this team (in the last year),” said coach Gerry Richard.

“If you count the Olympic trials, we had three major events in three months. We learned a lot, and we went to work on improvements.”

Richard said the team broke down their deliveries and reworked their releases to find the most optimum way to throw the stone. It’s a story to inspire any curler, whether a high-performance athlete or a rookie struggling with the basics.

“Look at Tiger Woods,” said Richard. “He himself reworks things, he adjusts his swing all the time. If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for us, and it’s good enough for everybody.”

And in an ominous note to their challengers, the new champions are prepared to continue improving.

“We’re at about 80-85 per cent of our potential right now,” said Richard.

“We can produce a little more.”

Canada would have earned 14 Olympic points toward qualifying status for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, but are pre-qualified as host nation. Denmark received 12 Olympic points, while bronze-medallists Scotland – skipped by Kelly Wood – grabbed 10 points.

Other nations impressing with a head start on Olympic qualifying included Debbie McCormick of the United States (7-4 round-robin record for nine Olympic points), Switzerland’s Silvana Tirinzoni (6-5 for eight points), Sweden’s disappointing Anette Norberg, the 2006 Olympic champions (6-5 for seven points) and Japan, Russia and Germany, who all tied at 4-7 to earn four Olympic points each.

Italy and the Czech Republic, making their world debut, both took 1.5 Olympic points for their 2-9 won/loss record.

The next global championship for women, the 2008 Ford World Women’s Curling Championships, takes place next year in Vernon, Canada, not far from Scott’s home base of Kelowna.

Next week, the 2007 Ford World Men’s Curling Championship gets underway in Edmonton, Canada, with the finals ending April 8. Over 170,000 tickets have been pre-sold for the event.

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