Canadian wheelchair curling team hopes to bounce back

After their sixth-place finish last year, Canada still eyes gold at the World Wheelchair Curling Championships 2016. 12 Feb 2016
Dennis Thiessen and Jim Armstrong

Dennis Thiessen celebrates with Jim Armstrong of Canada after winning the wheelchair curling gold-medal match against Russia at Sochi 2014.

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By Zrinka Peharec | For the IPC

After a disappointing finish at last year’s World Championships, the Canadian wheelchair curling team can show they are still a force to be reckoned with when the World Wheelchair Curling Championship 2016 take place 21-28 February in Eiszentrum Lucerne, Switzerland.

Canada won three World Championship gold medals – 2009 in Vancouver, Canada; 2011 in Prague, Czech Republic; and 2013 in Sochi, Russia. The team was skipped by long-time national player Jim Armstrong, who was absent from the 2015 World Championship in Finland due to health issues. Armstrong’s presence was missed, as Canada finished in a shocking sixth place.

Armstrong suffered a serious heart issue when returning from one of the practice camps ahead of the 2015 World Championships.

“I was very fortunate to even survive,” Armstrong said. “It has left me still somewhat weak, but I have been training as hard as possible to improve myself physically. Obviously, my missing last year's Championships had an adverse effect on our performance. I feel I should be ready to go this year.”

But from another perspective, sitting back and watching Russia and China compete in the 2015 finals allowed him to size up Canada’s future competitions.

“Regarding the 2015 Championships, it was a bit of a surprise, but at the same time not really surprising,” Armstrong said. “Russia has asserted themselves as a legitimate powerful team, and has worked very hard to reach gold. They are a very mature and well balanced team, with substantial depth, as evidenced by their starting line-up for the Championships. I see them as a long term powerful team in our sport.”

Canada’s vice skip Mark Ideson said missing Armstrong at last year’s edition hurt the team.

“It would affect any team not to have their leader,” Ideson said. “Jim is an integral part of our team and we are excited to have him back this year.”

The Canadian team had many camps this year that helped them prepare for the 2016 World Championships. Both Armstrong and Ideson are hoping to reach the playoffs, and go even further.

“All teams involved are competitive opponents and we just really need to stick to our game plan and execute,” Ideson said.

Canada has won all three Paralympic titles since the sport debuted in the Games at Torino 2004. But there seems to be a shift in powers with Russia and China proving gold medal contenders, making this month’s Championships a bit more unpredictable.

The World Championships 2016 are the second opportunity to gain qualification points for the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games. The World Wheelchair Curling Championships 2015, 2016 and 2017 also serve as the qualifiers for PyeongChang 2018.

Ten teams will compete in the World Championships: Canada, Russia, China, Finland, Germany, South Korea, Russia, Slovakia, Switzerland and the USA.

More information on the World Wheelchair Curling Championships 2016 can be found on the World Curling’s website.