The world class quality of curling at the 100% Pure New Zealand Winter Games made for enthralling final games. The Australia men’s team took gold in a high pressure game against China, winning 9-6, and Japan beat the Chinese women’s world champions to take gold with a decisive 8-5 victory.
The game was close all the way, with some great shots and a few devastating mistakes. Australia made 2 points on the first end, China only 1 on the second and then Australia stole one on the third to take the game into the fourth end, tied 2-2. Going into the sixth end it was tied again, 3-3 and then Australia scored a 3, but on the seventh Australia, in an attempt at a heavy takeout, clipped a guard and left the way open for China to score 3, to tie the score again, 6-6. China was forced to accept 1 in the eighth end and then Australia stole the finish with 1 in the ninth and 2 in the tenth end. To win the final end Australia remained focused on removing guards and a miss by China put an end to the game.
China is an Olympic-level team that has played successfully at major international tournaments, but it was the Australian team’s veteran savvy won the day. Australian skip, Hugh Millikin (53), said age had its advantages. “It helps to have been in difficult situations before especially when you give up a couple of points, like we gave up the 3 in the seventh. A lot of times that really deflates you and then you start making dumb mistakes,” he said. “We just kept to it and played the strategy out, so experience makes a big difference in curling.”
In the men’s battle for bronze, Japan asserted dominance over Korea scoring a 4 in the third end and stealing a 1 in the eighth resulting in a final score of 10-7 to Japan. China took the silver.
In the women’s final, China put the first points on the board and was leading 3-1 going into the fourth end, but Japan had the last stone advantage and scored an impressive 3, a turning point that put it ahead for the first time. China was never able to catch up, going into the final tenth end, 8-5. It came down to the wire with China having to score 3 to tie and force an extra end. China was in with a chance with two stones inside the rings, but Japan’s skip executed a difficult in-turn take out and killed China’s stone, running them out of rocks (making China’s last stone advantage attempt, pointless) and forcing the world champions to concede the game to Japan.
It was always going to be a huge battle between these two world-class teams: Japan, national champion and 2010 Olympic qualifier; and China, women’s world champions. Japanese skip Moe Meguro had a particularly strong game and said they were “very happy” to beat China. “We were relaxed because we were challengers against world champions – we couldn’t be nervous,” she said. “We didn’t think about winning until the end of the game to avoid the pressure.”
China national coach, Dan Rafael said Japan always gave them a good game. “Today we just didn’t come to the play. I know them better than that,” he said of China’s women curlers.
Korea pushed New Zealand out for the women’s bronze, with a score of 12-7 to Korea. Scores were fairly even in the first half of the game and tied 4-4 going into the fifth end. Korea stole a 3 and New Zealand was never able to get on top again, despite New Zealand putting an impressive four points on the board in the eighth end. China took silver.
Dan Rafael said China’s men’s team was a new line up and it was the first time skip, Liu Rui, had skipped a full tournament and that “experience was a factor” in their loss.
He went on to say that the 100% Pure New Zealand Winter Games curling event was a great event, ideal for giving players exposure a tournament and perfect timing for their training schedule. “It’s a great facility,” he said of the Maniototo Curling International indoor rink.