China makes history - claims women’s world curling gold

Ten years ago, Bingyu Wang of China didn’t know what a curling stone was.

Sunday afternoon in Gangneung, Korea she and her teammates defeated the two-time world and 2006 Olympic champions from Sweden to capture the Mount Titlis World Women’s Curling Championship 2009.

Winners of 11 straight games coming in to the final, the squad from Harbin exchanged misses with Anette Norberg’s Swedish foursome over the first few ends, swapping single points as the crowd of 3,800 buzzed in anticipation.

China scored the first deuce in the fourth end, for a 3-1 lead. They piled on the pressure in the fifth, and forced Norberg to make a hit and roll for a single point while facing three Chinese stones.

Wang, who captured the World University Games gold medal at her hometown last month, drew for another pair in the sixth when the Swedes missed a runback.

The seventh end saw Norberg bury a come-around on her first stone, and the normally unflappable Chinese skip gestured to the heavens when her takeout attempt, swept all the way, ticked a guard. Norberg drew for two and the gap was closed to one, at 5-4.

The drama continued in the eighth end, with Sweden in a dilemma. Norberg lay one but with three Chinese stones nearby. The seven-time European champion chose the tap-freeze – two shots in one attempt – but was only partially successful, as Wang hit and stuck for two points on a measurement for a 7-4 lead.

As is typical for a ninth end in this situation, Sweden found a way to wrangle a deuce and trailed 7-6 coming home.

Sweden had one buried behind cover until Norberg’s last stone, which she elected to put into the rings as opposed to guard. Wang faced two choices: a double-takeout or a draw to the four-foot rings.

She elected the takeout, made it perfectly, and China had scored one for an historic 8-6 championship win.

China’s 2008 silver turned to gold in Gangneung WCF photo by Lee Young Gyu

It marks the first time an Asian country, in women’s or men’s play, has won the world championship.

“Just so excited,” said Wang, who celebrated the win with teammates Yin Liu, Qingshuang Yue, Yan Zhou, Jinli Liu and Canadian coach Dan Raphael.

“It’s so fantastic. So great.”

Wang admitted she felt a little nervous before the final, describing the previous night’s sleep as “a little bad.”

“I was a little nervous and a little excited, but I just told myself, one more game. Don’t think too much. Just play Sweden, and we played well.

“We lost the final last year, and we really wanted to get the gold. Everybody worked hard; it was a long week.”

For the decorated veteran Norberg, the silver medal was just fine.

“We are very satisfied; we had a rough winter at home with a lot of personal problems,” said Norberg.

“We were saying before coming here that if we were top four, that’s OK for now and that’s not our usual goal going into the worlds.

“And we finished in the final, so we’re happy about that.”

It was the second runner-up finish for the Swedes in two majors this season. Norberg lost the final of December’s Le Gruyere European Championships to Switzerland’s Mirjam Ott, the 2008 world silver medallist who finished fifth in Gangneung

The Chinese coming-out part started at last year’s worlds in Vernon, Canada, where China went 9-2 and defeated Canada’s Jennifer Jones twice en route to the gold medal final, where Canada prevailed.

Years of hardcore national team training - in which the athletes plied their trade on a full-time basis, with government support - had begun to pay off.

Jones defeated China in the first game of the week in Gangneung, which proved to be China’s only blemish in 13 games.

As interest in Chinese curling skyrocketed, the team’s hometown of Harbin, a northern winter sports hub, played host in to the 24th Winter Universiade, or World University Games last month.

Amid increasing pressure, Wang lived up to her number one ranking and captured gold, live on state television, and a star was born.

China also completed the World Curling Federation’s three-year Olympic Qualification Points race in second place with 32 points scored over the past three world championships.

Only Canada bettered that mark, with 37 points (and two titles) in that period.

Montreal’s Dan Raphael, who began coaching the Chinese women’s and men’s national teams three years ago, was pointedly asked if his women’s squad was the favourite heading into next February’s Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

“I hope so,” Raphael said.

“Do I believe it? Yes. I think so.”

FINAL STANDINGS
China (Bingyu Wang) 12-1 GOLD
Sweden (Anette Norberg) 9-5 SILVER
Denmark (Angelina Jensen) 10-4 BRONZE
Canada (Jennifer Jones) 9-4
Switzerland (Mirjam Ott) 6-5
Germany (Andrea Schoepp) 6-5
Russia (Liudmila Privivkova) 5-6 Replaced as skip as of Draw 10
Scotland (Eve Muirhead) 5-6
USA (Debbie McCormick) 4-7
Korea (Mi-Yeon Kim) 3-8
Norway (Marianne Roervik) 1-10 Winner of the Frances Brodie Award (sportsmanship) as voted by the athletes
Italy (Diana Gaspari) 1-10