“It’s amazing and an absolute success. It has been our dream."
Curling was just introduced in Slovakia 10 years ago.
Wheelchair Curling was just introduced five years ago.
But already, Slovakia’s programme is making some noise on the international level, as its Wheelchair Curling team recently qualified for its first-ever World Championships with a top finish at the World Wheelchair Curling Qualification Tournament in Lohja, Finland in November.
“It’s amazing and an absolute success. It has been our dream,” Slovakia’s coach Milan Kalis said. “The feeling is one thing, and the possibilities are another.”
Slovakia’s team is led by skip Radoslav Duris, whom Kalis claims is one of the most intelligent people he has ever met. Duris was formerly a swimmer and hockey player before he was injured in a car accident in high school.
“All of our players were sportsmen before, so they all have the hearts of sportsmen,” Kalis said.
Duris helped Slovakia secure its place in Korea next February after it finished second in the round-robin stage at the Qualification Tournament and then beat Italy, 10-9, in the final playoff game to claim the top spot.
“We lost four games in a row in the middle of this event, and at that point, we said, ‘Houston, we have a problem.’ But since then, we have won every game,” Kalis said. “It was a dream for us to go to Korea, and now we are going.”
The World Wheelchair Curling Championships will take place at the Uiam Ice Rink in Chuncheon City, Korea, from 18-25 February 2012. Slovakia will join a field of 10 mixed-gender teams that includes defending Paralympic Games gold medallist, Team Canada.
The event will be the second opportunity for countries to gather qualification points for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.
Slovakia now faces a tall task in training for the big event with its four curlers being spread throughout the country, anywhere from 200-500km from the capital city of Bratislava, where the squad typically trains together.
As soon as the new year hits, the curlers will assemble in the capital for a four-day training camp and then play exhibition matches against Sweden and Russia to tune-up for the big competition.
Kalis said Canada, Sweden, China and the USA will be the top teams to beat at the World Championships, but that the rest of the squads – Norway, Russia, Scotland, Sweden and Italy – are not to be underestimated.
In fact, he admits that Slovakia will head into the competition as a complete underdog and it could be a major learning experience for the future.
“It’s the first time for us. All teams in the world group are very excellent and very strong,” Kalis said. “For us, it’s a big exercise.”