Sunday, April 08, 2007

Curling Crushjob: no doot aboot it

EDMONTON – In the end, there was no doubt about Canada’s domination at the 2007 Ford World Men’s Curling Championship.

Glenn Howard, already a two-time world champion, returned to the worlds with a new team (CCA photo by Michael Burns) and went 12-1 during the week, including a crushing 8-3 final-game win over Germany’s Andy Kapp.

Howard and third Richard Hart, an Olympic silver medallist in 1998, sizzled with shooting percentages of 98 per cent. Front-enders Brent Laing and Craig Savill – twice world junior champions – both clocked over 90 per cent in throwing accuracy in the final and, like their teammates, through the entire week.

“Niney-eight per cent? Oh my Lord,” said Howard.

“It’s like Richie (Hart) said, we gotta step it up a notch for the final. He said if we can beat our percentages in this game, we’ll win it.”

It was all but over in the very first end, as a series of German misses left Howard with an open draw for four points. The Canadians held Germany to singles in the third and fifth ends, and added a big three-count in the sixth for an 8-2 lead.

“It was the best week of curling our team has ever played,” said Howard.

The Canadian skip won world titles in 1987 and 1993, as third for his brother Russ Howard, who also won Olympic gold last year in Turin. The younger Howard endured a 14-year waiting period before qualifying for the worlds.

“I never really thought I’d get back here, to be honest,” said Howard.

“Everything has to click, all the stars have to be in line. The guys just played unbelievable all week, and made my job real simple.”

Germany’s Kapp, supported by brother Uli Kapp, Andy Lang, Andreas Kempf and Holger Höhne, won four playoffs games en route to the final, scoring 12 valuable qualifying points toward Germany’s attempts to compete in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

“What can you do, the game was over before it started,” said German third Uli Kapp.

“Of course, with a little bit of distance after this game, this was a big success. We were up and down through the week, but from where we were earlier this season, it was great.”

Skip Andy Kapp summed up the week at Rexall Place, which set a world record of over 184,000 in paid attendance.

“His (Howard’s) was the best team I’ve ever seen, in all the years I’ve played,” said the elder Kapp.

It marked the second world silver medal for Kapp, to go along with three bronze medals in a distinguished international career. However, his teams have tanked at the Olympic Winter Games with two eighth-place finishes, at Nagano in 1998 and last year in Turin.

“I’m not sure what it is,” Kapp opined.

“Maybe we think about winning the gold, and millions of Germans are interested in curling, and if you think about that you don’t play so well.

“We want to help grow the sport as well.”

In December, much of the German team will serve double duty in their home town of Fussen. Not only will they compete for Germany at the 2007 Le Gruyère European Championships, but they will also work behing the scenes with the organizing committee. Andy Kapp himself is the chairman of the event.

Todd Birr’s team from the United States won the bronze, notching 10 Olympic qualifying points towards the 2010 games.

Switzerland’s Ralph Stöckli, who won the Colin Campbell Award for combining playing ability with sportsmanship, finished fourth while Sweden’s Peja Lindholm ranked fifth.

Finland’s Markku Uusipaavalniemi disappointed with a sixth-place finish along with France’s Thomas Dufour, who will delight in France’s strongest finish in years.

More disappointment for Scotland’s Warwick Smith and Norway’s Thomas Ulsrud: both skips won gold and bronze, respectively, at last year’s world championship but finished eighth this time, along with Australia’s Hugh Millikin and Denmark’s Johnny Frederiksen.

Korea’s Je Ho Lee won only one game in eleven attempts but thanked Edmonton for a valuable learning experience. Lee was the crowd favourite after hosts Canada.

Next year’s world men’s championship will be held at the famed Ralph Englestad Arena in Grand Forks, North Dakota, USA. Next year’s Ford Women’s Worlds will be hosted by Vernon, British Columbia, Canada.

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