CURLING/ Ex-Olympians return in bid to get Japan to Sochi

January 11, 2012

By DAISUKE MAEDA / Staff Writer

Two former Olympic curlers, who were part of a successful women’s team that popularized the sport in Japan, have come out of retirement in an effort to rescue Japan’s chances of qualifying for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Ayumi Ogasawara, whose maiden name is Onodera, and Yumie Funayama, maiden name Hayashi, are in the midst of a comeback after competing at the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics. The pair did not want to sit idly by and watch Japan miss out on the 2014 Olympics, which could very well happen. They are now determined to get those Olympic tickets themselves.

The two curlers have gotten married and given birth since the Turin Games and are now both 33 years old. They decided to try out for the Olympics one more time as curling is a sport that features plenty of mothers competing at the international level in dominant countries.

In 2010, they formed a team sponsored by a local bank, Hokkaido Bank Fortius. In October and November last year, the team played some tournaments in Canada. After returning to Japan, they have been training in the town of Moseushi, about 95 kilometers from Sapporo.

The team’s current goal is to win the national championships in February. Three teams will represent Hokkaido Prefecture, and the regional qualifying event gets under way on Jan. 19.

Ogasawara, who served as skip in the Turin Games, says the team “has a long way to go.” Adds Funayama: “My stamina is only 50 to 60 percent of what it was during the Turin Olympics.”

Still, the pair also feel that experiencing childbirth will work in their favor, allowing them to remain calm and focused under pressure when making shots.

But they also face stiffer competition from the world these days. While they were taking a break, the global level of women’s curling has risen. Many female players are now employing the strategy of taking out opposing stones aggressively with force, much like their male counterparts.

Ogasawara was surprised to see how much the Chinese and South Korean players had improved. At the Pan Pacific Games last November, the women’s curling team that represented Japan (Chubu Electric Power Co.’s corporate team) was beaten by both China and South Korea and failed to qualify for the 2012 World Championships.

Ogasawara and Funayama, however, have no intention of changing their strategy of using precision shots.

“I will cherish each and every game I play and hope to grow from those experiences,” says Ogasawara.

Ten nations, including host nation Russia, will qualify for the 2014 Sochi Olympics in curling. According to the Japan Curling Association, the top seven nations that produce the best results at the 2012 and 2013 World Championships will receive Olympic berths.

The remaining two nations are expected to be chosen through trial matches between countries that compete at the World Championships. Both the Japanese men and women have already failed to qualify for the 2012 World Championships. Their Olympic dreams will come to an end unless a Japanese team places second or better at the 2012 Pan Pacific Games, which would qualify them for the 2013 World Championships.

Two young mothers in Hokkaido are working hard to make that happen.

By DAISUKE MAEDA / Staff Writer
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Ayumi Ogasawara, left, and Yumie Funayama ponder strategy during a curling competition in December. (The Asahi Shimbun)

Ayumi Ogasawara, left, and Yumie Funayama ponder strategy during a curling competition in December. (The Asahi Shimbun)

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  • Ayumi Ogasawara, left, and Yumie Funayama ponder strategy during a curling competition in December. (The Asahi Shimbun)

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