Being ‘well prepared’ vital for Pacific-Asia teams

  • Chinese Taipei's Randolph Shen Photos: © WCF / Richard Gray

The World Curling Federation’s Pacific-Asia zone is becoming a rising force in world curling.

A fifth of the World Curling Federation’s Member Associations come from this regional area – and it recently welcomed Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Saudi Arabia to the curling family. Also, its flagship event, the Pacific-Asia Curling Championships has seen an increase in participation over the past few years.

And, inevitably, with more teams comes more competition!

This year, the Pacific-Asia Curling Championships are being held in Erina, Australia from 2 to 9 November – the countries first international curling event in over 21 years. Japan, Korea and China have had the most medal success at this event in recent years, but there has always been plenty of competition from elsewhere.

Speaking of which, one of the highlights from 2016’s championships was the performance of the Chinese Taipei men’s team. It was the first time that the nation had made the play-offs.

The man who has been a key figure in boosting the reputation of the team is Randolph Shen – the skip and the fourth player for the Chinese Taipei men’s team. He, like two of the three others in his team, lives in British Columbia, Canada. The other member of their team, Ting-Li Lin, is across the border in the neighbouring United States, situated in the northern state of Wisconsin. Although they’re miles away from the nation that they proudly represent, living in North America benefits teams like theirs for training purposes.

“We practise on ice every week, plus each of us individually curl in our club leagues,” says Randolph, “We can also prepare by competing on the World Curling Tour and we do a lot of work with our physical trainer as well as our sports psychologist, who will be our coach in Australia.”

The coach Shen speaks of is Roger Friesen, who has worked with many Canadian Olympic teams and has over 30 years of experience in curling. Although not your traditional curling coach, Randolph is hoping that Friesen’s psychology background will bring a different dynamic to the team, “We acknowledged that we have the skill sets to compete against the top teams and what is lacking is our mental training,” he says. “That’s the main reason why we have stepped up Roger’s involvement with us.

“We have stepped up our weekly meetings with Roger,” says Randolph. Despite improvements in coaching, they still face issues of a small team: “Three of our players have young families and we are mostly a self-funded team.

“We don’t travel and play as much as countries such as China, Japan and Korea.”

With the issues that Chinese Taipei are still facing, Randolph is staying grounded ahead of the championships, “First and foremost we need to play well during the round-robin,” he says. “If we stick to our game plan and I feel success will come if we stay in the moment and not get too caught up on the outcome.

“Last year was the first-time Chinese Taipei made the play-offs. Emotions and excitement got the better of us during the play-offs. If we are lucky enough to reach the final four again this year, it would be easier to put the emotions aside as we’ve already experienced it.”

While Chinese Taipei look like they are slowly becoming a force in the region, some are just starting out. One of the newest teams on the circuit are Qatar, a side making ends meet in whatever way possible. Although their 2016 debut in the tournament didn’t bring any victories, there were positives. The men’s team ran teams like Hong Kong and Kazakhstan close in eventual defeats, but there will be hopes for more this season.

The head coach for the Qatari teams is Lajos Belleli, a seven-time national curling champion in his native Hungary, representing the national side as many times as well as coaching Hungary at the World Mixed Doubles Championships twice. He has been at elite championships and is hoping with some practice on dedicated ice, his side can improve their performance from last year.

“We had eight great practice days in Turkey,” says Lajos. “The Turkish Curling Federation was an excellent host. We had two practices every day on one to two sheets of ice. We also practised with the Kazakh teams too. We took our full women’s team and half of our men’s team.”

Along with training at the World Curling Federation’s Adult Camp in Prague, this was their only practice on dedicated ice, as they usually train on hockey ice. Their time in Erzurum with the Turkish Curling Federation also saw the team compete in a three-countries cup. Elsewhere, at the Adult Camp, Lajos’ teams were able to learn under a number of instructors and were intensively training: “They were out of the normal comfort zone as the groups were very diverse and busy,” said Lajos. “They had fun and developed as well.”

Now with a productive 2017 setting them up for an improved performance this year, Lajos doesn’t expect a drastic rise, but expects things to go better than last year: “We are still not focusing on results and more on performance,” he says. “We must be more accurate than we were, make better decisions, communicate better. The spirit we had last year was nice, but we need to improve in every phase of the game.

“We are proud and honoured to represent Qatar and play against our fellow Pacific-Asian curlers as the only Arabic country, but this is quite challenging as well with such a short history.

“We are committed to spreading curling in the Arab world and the Middle East as well.”

One thing these teams have in common, which is key for these championships, is being well prepared. Regardless of whether you are chasing that gold medal or desperate to get your first win on the board, if you fail to prepare; you prepare to fail. Whether it’s hiring psychological coaches, going abroad to play on dedicated curling ice these teams, along with all the other competing nations, will be hoping their preparation pays off.

To engage with the World Curling Federation on social media in the build to the Pacific-Asia Curling Championships 2017 and the 2018 Olympic Winter Games [8-25 February] follow it on Twitter, Instagram (@WorldCurling) and Facebook (/WorldCurlingFederation) and use the hashtags when posting:
PACC 2017 - #PACC2017
Generic - #curling #Roadto2018

by Michael Houston, feature writer