Major contest predicted for finals

The curling finals at the 100% Pure NZ Winter Games are shaping up to be a huge contest between world-class teams on Saturday. In the men’s competition, Australia and China go head-to head for gold, and Korea and Japan will battle it out for bronze. In the women’s final, Japan is up against world champion China for gold, and Korea and New Zealand are playing for bronze.

In Friday’s play, China beat USA in the men’s tie-breaker 9-6 to go in the semi-finals at fourth position, playing Japan who finished first in the standings. In the semi-final game Japan (first) lost to China (fourth) with a final score of 11-3. Despite China’s mixed success at the tournament, it showed its true potential in the semi-final and Japan struggled to score.

In the other men’s semi-final, Australia (third) played Korea (second) in what was a long and intensive game. Korea put three points on the board in the first end, but Australia scored consistently stealing a 1 on both the fourth, fifth and ninth ends and a 2 on the eighth. Going into the tenth and final end the score was 7-5 to Australia. Korea had the last stone advantage, but needed to score a 3 to force the game into an extra end. It was looking good for Korea who had two stones inside the rings, but Australia still had a play to make. Fourth player Ian Palangio executed a difficult take-out shot and dashed Korea’s chances of a draw, ending the game 8-5 to Australia.

During the game Australian skip Hugh Millikin complained twice to the umpire about the Korean skip moving about just before Hugh Millikin made his shots. “You give your opponent every opportunity to make their shot – I get annoyed when somebody doesn’t play to the spirit of the game,” said Hugh Millikin. “It added to the intensity of the game.”

In the women’s first semi-final, Japan (second) played Korea (third) in a strong and competitive game. Japan put 3 points on the board in the first, but a consistent scoring pattern meant they went into the tenth end tied, 5-5. It came down to the last shot and Japan made the most of its last stone advantage, drawing perfectly to curl into the centre ring and win the game, 6-5.

In the second women’s semi-final New Zealand made world champion, China work extremely hard for its victory. The final score was 7- 4 to China. China put the first point on the board and stole the second, but New Zealand, scored consistently after that, only ever one point behind China until the eighth end when China scored a 3, New Zealand scored 1 in the ninth end, but took China all the way to the tenth before bowing out. It was a stunning performance by New Zealand who was placed fourth in the standings.

Skip Bridget Becker said her team-mates, who live in different cities and only had four practices before the tournament did well against what are essentially professional curlers. “We had nothing to lose,” she said. “Our team is just getting better and better.”