|NZ v Finland. Photo © WCF / Céline Stucki|
23 May 2021 – New Zealand curlers Courtney Smith and Anton Hood have fallen just short at the country's first attempt to qualify for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.
A last-stone loss in their pool game against the USA at the World Mixed Doubles Championship in Aberdeen, Scotland was the difference between fourth place in their pool (and with it a game for the seventh and final spot at Beijing), and their eventual placing of sixth in the pool and 12th overall in a field of 20.
Their participation at the Championship was only confirmed a few weeks before the Aberdeen event after the originally selected pair were unable to attend.
Both Courtney and Anton have played at a high level domestically, and against international teams at Winter Games NZ tournaments. However, this was their first tournament together as a team in four years, and they had just five practice sessions together before they left for Scotland.
National coach Peter de Boer was full of praise for the duo, both aged 21.
"I am hugely proud, inspired and encouraged at what this pair has achieved," he said. "They were the youngest athletes at this World Championship, their first. And with limited funding available, they were also the only team there with no support crew of coaches, physios etc.”
“Their efforts, a 4 win - 5 loss record and top-16 finish have secured automatic entry for NZ to next year's Worlds and the chance for us to again test ourselves against the world's best. Thanks to all at High Performance Sport NZ and NZOC who have contributed so much in helping the NZCA and these athletes to participate in this event."
“It’s been an amazing tournament to play in," said Courtney Smith. "There are some incredible teams here and the opportunity to play against them – what a privilege! We have had so much support but a special thank you to Pete de Boer, without him wouldn't have performed as well as we did. Anton has been a machine all week, throwing some amazing rocks, incredible sweeping and being a great teammate. I have learned a lot from him."
"We achieved one of our two goals here," added Anton, "which was to keep NZ in the top 16 and came close to achieving the second! Special thanks to Courts, she’s thrown well all week!"
Commenting on the necessary COVID protocols in place for the event he added,"We know a few of the teams pretty well so it's very weird to not be able to have a sit down quality yarn!"
New Zealand's second and final opportunity for Beijing 2022 will be an Olympic Qualification Event late this year. This will confirm the last two sides for the 10-strong Olympic field.
Scotland won the World Championship final 9-7 over Norway, while Sweden beat Canada 7-4 for the bronze medal. These four sides along with Italy, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and hosts China are now qualified for the Winter Olympics event.
Kiwis head to Scottish bubble in bid for Beijing
|Anton Hood and Courtney Smith|
10 May 2021 – Central Otago curlers Courtney Smith and Anton Hood (both 21) leave for Aberdeen, Scotland today to represent NZ at the World Mixed Doubles Championship.
Both have represented New Zealand in Mixed Doubles at an international level previously, on home ice at the 2018 and 2019 Winter Games NZ. But this will be the first time they have played together in the same team.
The 20 competing nations will be playing within strict COVID-related bubble conditions, all vying to win one of seven direct spots to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.
The New Zealand Curling Association has spent months working closely with the NZ Olympic Committee and Sport New Zealand to ensure that all necessary risks have been assessed, allowing the athletes to travel and compete as safely as possible.
Courtney and Anton are taking the place of the originally selected pair Jess and Ben Smith, who are unavailable because of illness.
National Coach Peter de Boer is confident of their chances. "They are two very talented young athletes who have trained well. Whilst they will be competing against some professional and semi-professional athletes, the margins at this level are very thin. So I'm very hopeful they'll surprise some of their opponents".
Courtney Smith, a student nurse based in Dunedin, can't wait to get there. "This is my first World event outside of the Junior grades, so I excited to test my skills against the world's best",
Anton Hood, a builder, who has played in several international events already is totally focused on that Beijing spot. "We've been given so much support from the Curling Association, the NZOC and Sport NZ," he said, "and we want to repay them all by challenging for one of those precious Olympic Spots".
The event runs from Monday 17th - 23rd May.