“I think the secret to our success is that we encourage each other and support each other. We constantly find problems and solve them in the game and grow in the game. Curling is what we call chess on ice. I like to analysis the game of chess, so I like to study all kinds of curling strategy."
Throughout the World Wheelchair Curling Championship emotions were painted clear on the face of China’s lead Zhou Yan.
When skip Haitao Wang nailed a takeout with what proved to be his last stone of the competition, Yan exchanged a high-five with him and lifted her arms in the air in joy.
But it was not until later on that Yan realised the scale of her team’s achievement.
“After winning the last game, the coach told me, ‘we are world champions now and this is the first world championship gold medal [for China]’,” she says.
Just another game
Yan says she and teammates Wang, Mingliang Zhang, Qiang Zhang and Xinchen Xu had approached the final like the rest of the competition.
“I didn't think about it too much before. It was just like winning another game,” she says. And China had definitely found a winning feeling throughout the competition, losing only three matches on the way to the title.
Their wins included a 4-2 victory against Norway in a rematch of the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games final – although only Wang and Qiang Zhang played for China last year.
Yan says that game against Norway was the best China played throughout the competition.
“Before the match, China had been confirmed to make it to the semi-final, so there was no pressure, we took it easy. Without any psychological burden, on the contrary, we played well,” she believes.
China did not have it all their own way. They lost to Estonia, Canada and Slovakia in the round robin, and Yan says their match against Russia – which they won 4-3 – was the toughest of the competition.
“Russia hardly have any tactical flaws, and are very good at using offensive tactics,” Yan says.
She adds that China has visited Russia several times to play exchange matches, and the Russian set-up is impressive.
Chess on ice
China’s approach to the world championship was one of support and solutions, says Yan.
“I think the secret to our success is that we encourage each other and support each other,” she says. “We constantly find problems and solve them in the game and grow in the game.”
In particular, Yan praises the backing of skip Wang as the key to China’s team spirit.
Yan herself picked up curling after first trying Para archery. She says the tactical side of the sport has particularly appealed to her.
“Curling is what we call chess on ice. I like to analysis the game of chess, so I like to study all kinds of curling strategy,” she says.
China’s maiden world title came just under a year after the Paralympic title, which was not only the country’s first in curling but the first in any Paralympic Winter Games sport. Following that achievement with gold in Stirling proved that the PyeongChang achievement was no flash in the pan.
While celebrating the gold medal, Yan knows it is just the beginning for the sport’s development in her home country ahead of their own Winter Paralympics in Beijing in 2022.
“This is a start for wheelchair curling in China, and we still need to work hard and continue to learn,” she concludes.