The curling national championships kicked off in Aomori on Feb. 9 with expectations of a heated competition in the women’s event after members of the previous Olympic team split up and formed separate own teams.
Depending on the results of the national competition, Japan may have to form a team specifically for the Olympics because the nation is at risk of missing out on a fifth consecutive ticket to the Winter Games in curling.
In a sport that requires precise teamwork between the four members, entire teams are usually selected to represent a country. Some nations even have families forming teams. But with the Olympics at stake, Japan may pick the best players in each position and form a selection team to qualify for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
What is jeopardizing Japan’s Olympic stake is the rapidly growing strength of China and South Korea. In order to qualify for the Sochi Olympics, Japan has to at least place in the top two at the Pan Pacific Games this fall, and compete at the world championships, but the chances are looking slim.
At an international meet held in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, last month, the Chubu Electric Power Co. team that represented Japan placed last of all eight participating teams. That’s when the idea of forming a mixed team for the Pan Pacific Championships was first raised. Some insiders believe that Japan can beat China and South Korea with a selection team of members who are the best in their respective positions. To add conviction to this debate, the Chinese have had success mixing members selected from different groups.
Even if Japan decides to mix members, it will have to urgently promote teamwork by increasing training camps or largely changing the way it trains its top athletes. But Kenichi Sato, a Japan Curling Association official, says Japan doesn’t have the kind of budget that state-funded China does.
The decision on forming a selection curling team is expected to be determined at the association’s training committee meeting to be held Feb. 12.
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