Bureaucratic bungling has left women’s curling hanging in the wind in Japan with a coveted Olympic berth still undecided.
At issue is the fate of Chubu Electric Power Co.’s corporate team, which recently sealed its second consecutive title at the national curling championships.
Under normal circumstances, that would be enough for the Japan Curling Association to give the Chubu team the nod to take part in the Pacific-Asia Curling Championships, the next step on the road to qualifying for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The association, however, has decided to delay its decision on which women’s team should represent Japan at international competitions.
Despite the Chubu Electric Power team being the top team in Japan the past two years, the JCA is hesitant to green light the team due to poor results at international events. Last fall, the team failed to place in the top two at the 2011 Pacific-Asia Curling Championships--its first international tournament--failing to qualify for the World Championships, which lead to the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
If Japan fails to place in the top two at the Pacific-Asia Curling Championships this fall, it risks failing to qualify for its fifth consecutive Winter Games in women’s curling. That prospect prompted the association to come up with the idea of forming a team—called a “rink” in curling--consisting of former Olympians who have joined various club teams.
But curling requires precise teamwork between the four rink members, and the bond between them can make or break a team. Out of the four top teams at the national championships, the Chubu Electric Power team had been together the longest. They were also the most successful.
Former members of Japan’s Olympic women’s curling team had nothing positive to say about the idea of forming a “mixed” team.
“(If we were going to do that,) we should’ve formed a new team right after the (2010) Vancouver Olympics,” says one ex-Olympian. “Even that might’ve been too late.”
Complicating the issue is the curling association’s lack of funding. The association can’t afford to hold training camps, so it’s up to each team to fend for itself. This means that only teams with strong corporate backing or other funding can afford to hold overseas training camps. The idea of having a domestic league to boost the overall competition level is also not taking off because teams prefer to keep their trade secrets to themselves.
China and South Korea, Japan’s toughest competition in Asia, have already secured their tickets to the World Championships. China has been strengthening its curling team on the national level and managed to win a bronze medal at the Vancouver Olympics. South Korea is beefing up its team ahead of hosting the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
It’s time for Japan’s curling community to come together as one to build a system for boosting the national level. One option is to turn the Chubu Electric Power team into Japan’s national team and establish an environment for the team to train overseas. To borrow a curling term, we shouldn’t let this slide any longer.
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