Two wins help curling clinch semifinal berth
VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Four years ago in Torino when wheelchair curling debuted as a medal sport at the Paralympic Winter Games, the Americans were outplayed and finished 2-5. Lessons have been learned and hours and hours of practice have been put in by Team USA, led by Augusto Perez. Four years later, the Americans have clinched a semifinal berth with one game left in the round robin.
"It feels really, really nice. After Torino, people said we were a bad team. I told Jimmy Jam [Jim Joseph] that we had room for improvement. I'm an optimist," said Perez, who also is a two-time canoe world champion.
The U.S. earned the semifinal berth after an 8-3 win over Yoji Nakajima's Japanese team tonight at the Vancouver Olympic Centre. With the win, Perez (East Syracuse, N.Y.) and teammates Patrick McDonald (Orangevale, Calif.), James Pierce (North Syracuse, N.Y.), Jacqui Kapinowski (Point Pleasant, N.J.) and James Joseph (New Hartford, N.Y.) improve to 6-2, just a game back from first-place Canada.
"We worked so hard and it's all paid off. Wow. There are so many emotions running through me right now," said Kapinowski as tears streamed down her cheeks. Kapinowski, who suffers from stiff man syndrome and has been confined to a wheelchair since age 40, has completed 52 marathons and has crossed the finish line a few different ways - running, with a walker and in a push-rim wheelchair. "I have such a great sense of the gold right now. I can hear our national anthem."
All it takes is a few misses in curling and before you know it, a big end is a possibility. The U.S. was on the receiving end of a six-ender early in the game and held off Japan to earn the sixth win. Perez had a chance to draw for seven points, which would have been a Paralympic record, but came up just short of the rings.
"The score is deceiving. We hit 'em with a big end. I was about two millimeters out and got stuck in a slow spot. They told me I couldn't sweep," Perez said and laughed. "That end was a savior for us. I feel bad for Japan because they play much better than that."
Japan, which features 75-year-old Hidai Takashi at the second position, tried in earnest to get back in the game after spotting six to the U.S.
As expected with such a big deficit, a lot of rocks were in play in the third end with Japan finally getting a rock in scoring position with Katsuo Ichikawa's final rock but three U.S. stones were encircled around the four-foot to deter them from scoring any more.
A perfect hit and roll by Pierce in the fourth looked to set up a good end but it quickly went downhill after that as the Americans routinely missed a takeout of a Japan rock on the side of the house but their counterparts didn't play much better and the end was blanked.
The shaky play continued for the Americans as they'd give up a single in the fifth end when Perez missed a raise to allow Japan to sneak back into the game at 6-3. The sixth end shaped up nicely for the U.S. as they were able to protect two stones until Nakajima made a raise to touch part of the four foot for second count. Perez tried an angle raise to remove it but couldn't move enough of it back to earn two.
The Americans got a stone protected in the four-foot early in the seventh end and added two more when McDonald converted a takeout that sent one Japan stone out of the rings and tapped another back enough to benefit the U.S. Nakajima was able to raise one rock into the second position with his first toss, but couldn't remove the second one to give up the steal. The U.S. would use the takeouts to shut down Japan in the eighth and clinch the playoff spot.
Up next for the U.S. is Switzerland (2-5) at 12:30 PT tomorrow in the final game of the round robin. The top four teams at the conclusion of the round robin advance to the semifinals at 10 a.m. Saturday. The gold-medal and bronze-medal games are set for 3:30 p.m. Saturday (local time).
"It's a clean slate now," Kapinowski said about the playoffs. "We'll just get lots of rest and be ready."
The official site of the U.S. Paralympic Team, www.usparalympics.org, will also offer daily video and news highlights of the competition from Vancouver. Also check out www.paralympicsport.tv for on- demand feeds.
USA line score:
*USA 060 001 1x 8
Japan 101 010 0x 3
*last stone in first end
Game scores: Canada 6, Korea 4; USA 8, Japan 3; Italy 9, Norway 7
Great Britain 2-5
*clinched semifinal berth
Live scoring from the event will be http://www.vancouver2010.com/paralympic-games/wheelchair-curling/schedule-and-results.
USA Curling is sponsored by AIT Worldwide Logistics, Nike, bitRail, Laphroaig Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky and is partnered with CurlingZone.