The World Championships. The Brier. The Scotties. The European Curling Championships. The grand slams. These are often the big events attracting the most interest among curling fans during the season. This year add in The Olympics. But aren't we forgetting the largest growing region within the sport? It might be time we add the Pacific-Asia Curling Championships to the list of exciting championship events every year.
Curling is taking off within the Pacific-Asia region. There are more curling clubs being built in nations like Japan and Korea. Most of the nations within the region are seeing an increase in curling registrations, whether it be just simple Learn to Curl sessions at the club or signing up to compete in fun spiels and events. And, on a competitive level, we have seen a steady increase in the number of #PACC teams competing on the World Curling Tour.
Teams from the Pacific-Asia region are not only growing annually on the #wct but they are competing and winning.
China is a perfect example. The growth of the sport has seen more teams join the #wct over the past few seasons on both the men's and women's circuit. Korea, since the announcement of hosting the 2018 Winter Olympics, has put tremendous amounts of effort and money into the sport and have seen an increase in men's and women's teams. And both of these nations are collecting W's on tour from multiple teams.
Japan has three very strong women's teams who have been consistently qualifying and winning on tour for a number of seasons. In fact we have been seeing them earn spots at grand slam events as well and pushing the top European and North American teams for many years. Gone are the days where Canada and Europe would dominate the World Championships and Olympics. The Pacific-Asia region is coming on strong and closing the gap quickly. It would only be wise for curling fans, and competitors from around the world, to sit up and take notice of the results from the Pacific-Asia Curling Championships this week in Australia!
"So what can you tell me about the Pacific-Asia Curling Championships?" Well I am glad you asked the question rock heads. Get out your notepads and pencils, time for a history lesson!
- 2017 marks the 27th year of the #PACC competition. The inaugural event took place in 1991 in Sagamihara, Japan. Only 3 men's teams (Australia, Japan, New Zealand) and 2 women's teams (Japan, Australia) competed for the championship. Australia would win the men's title while Japan would delight the home nation fans taking home the women's title.
- In the past the #PACC champion would receive an automatic berth into the World Championship field with the runner-up receiving a spot if the championships were held in North America or Europe. This year marks a change as the Top 3 finishers will ALL punch their ticket to the world championship field....a first for the region! After this season, the Top 2 will automatically receive their spot while the other nations will have a last-chance qualifier to earn their ticket.
- Currently the Pacific-Asia region consists of teams from Australia, China, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Japan, Kazakhstan, New Zealand, Qatar and South Korea. All 9 nations in the region will field teams in the men's competition for the second year in a row. Kazakhstan and Qatar decided not to enter a women's team this year after competing in 2016. Chinese Taipei does not have an established women's program at this time.
- Erina, Australia will host the 2017 championships. Erina is a small town of 4,633 people off the central coast region of New South Wales. Erina will serve as only the 3rd Australian location to host the event and first since 1996. Previous Australian hosts have been Sydney (1996) and Adelaide (1993).
- Japan leads the way with hosting responsibilities, having hosted the #PACC event 9 times, most recent in Karuizawa in 2014. China has played host 4 times (last being 2013) as has New Zealand (last in 2012). Korea has also hosted 4 championships with Uiseong hosting twice (2010, 2016). Karuizawa has acted as host city the most with 3 championships (1997, 2009, 2014). Kazakhstan hosted their first-ever international curling event in 2015 when Almaty hosted the #PACC.
- Quick trivia question: Where is the most obscure place the #PACC event has been held? If you said Canada you would be correct. More specific Qualicum Beach, B.C (1998) and Esquimalt, B.C (2000) have served as the backdrop for the region's curling championships. Canada of course did not compete in either event but did welcome competitors from the region.
- The men's championships has seen a movement of dynasty results. Australia dominated the competition in the early years, winning the first 7 championships. During the next 7 years (1998-2004) New Zealand would take home 4 of the 7 championship wins, with Australia finishing runner-up in 5 of those years. From 2007 to 2014, China controlled the region taking home 8 straight gold medals. Overall Australia leads the way with 9 gold medals with China close behind with 8.
- Japan's men have seen the most disappointment. In the early years of the event, Japan would reach the championship final 8 straight times....and take home 8 straight silver medals. The silver curse would be lifted in 1999 when Japan would win their first championship on home ice over rival Australia and again take the title in 2001 over New Zealand. Unfortunately the disappointing results would add up again. Between 2002 and 2015, Japan would take home 7 more silver medals (including 4 straight from 2012 - 2015) and even failed to medal in 2010 and 2011. Overall Japan have 15 silver medals and lead the total medal count with 21. Australia is next with 19 and New Zealand with 17.
- The opposite can be said for the Japanese women however. Japan would win the first 9 championships and 13 of the first 14 (minus losing the final to Korea in 2001). Note here there was no women's tournament in 1992. However, from 2006 to 2016, Japan has only celebrated 1 #PACC victory (2015) and have only reached the final 4 times (2007, 2009, 2012, 2015). The tides are a changing.
- Similar to the men, China's women's program began to pick up steam in 2004. While the men reached the playoffs from 2004 - 2006 (picking up a bronze in 2006), the women took it one step further in reaching the championship final every year from 2004 to 2014. Within this time frame they would take home 7 titles, including 4 straight from 2006 - 2009.
- The up and coming nation is Korea. The Korean men have found the podium in 7 of the past 8 years (finishing 4th in 2012), including striking gold in 2015 for their second ever championship win. The women are riding a remarkable 18 year podium streak, including playing in the championship final in 6 of the past 7 years (bronze in 2012). The Korean women have brought home the championship in 3 of the past 7 years, including last year's title on home ice.
- Overall Japan leads the way with 14 women's gold medal wins followed next by China with 7. Korea leads the way in the runner-up category with 9 silver medal wins. In total podium finishes, Japan leads once again with 24 medals from 25 appearances (only missing the podium in 2011 where they finished 4th). Korea is next with 19 total medals and China has 13. Australia (7) and New Zealand (11) are the only other nations to find the podium, neither with gold medal wins however.
It's time! #TwineTime has a clean rock, takes a deep breath and knows it is now time to slide out of the hack....and into the #TourLifePredictions:
PACIFIC-ASIA CURLING CHAMPIONSHIPS
2016 Champions: Japan (Men) & South Korea (Women)
Format: 9 team RR with Top 4 advancing to playoffs (Men) & 6 team double RR with Top 4 advancing to playoffs (Women)
Top Teams Entered: Yusukue Morozumi (Japan), Chang-Min Kim (Korea)
Favourite: The defending champions from Japan, as well as the Olympic representative for the Land of the Rising Sun, will be strong favourites to repeat their title win of a year ago. Morozumi has faced numerous disappointments at this event, finishing runner-up 6 times in 7 appearances (including a run from 2012-2015). Last year, however, it all came together and Morozumi took home the coveted continental championship for the first time in what was also the first win for Japan since 2001. But lets be honest too, Morozumi is struggling in the all-important Olympic season. The team sports a sub-.500 record of 19-23 and have only qualified in 2 of their 8 events. They need a momentum switch and this could be the perfect event for them to turn the season around.
Dark Horse: Randy Shen and his Chinese Taipei team return to the #PACC2017 event with the same lineup that brought home a nation-best 4th place finish one year ago. Shen was the #TeamUpset of the event last year when he led the upstart curling nation to a surprise 6-2 RR finish, good for 3rd place heading into the playoffs. The team would suffer back to back playoff losses to finish 4th but they did pick up huge W's along the way, including defeating Morozumi in the final RR game to clinch 3rd spot. With more at stake this season knowing the Top 3 qualify for the World Championships, Chinese Taipei could be the dark horse nation to surprise the world once again and punch its ticket to Vegas. The only question really surrounding this team is their lack of on-ice competition leading into the championship. They have only played 1 event on tour, in Maple Ridge, and went 1-3. However, even with the lack on competitive ice time, don't sleep on this team.
W2W4: The growth of the region is quite remarkable to watch. In a true #growthesport mentality, this continental championship was dominated by Australia, Japan and New Zealand in the infancy stage of bring curling to the region. Korea started to emerge as a challenger and then, by the late 2000's China staked its claim on being a dominant nation. The question now is "Who's next?" Which of the "newer" or "non-traditional" nations can make the most noise going forward? Chinese Taipei already put the region on notice with their performance last year. Hong Kong, skipped by Canadian Jason Chang, is fresh off a breakout rookie performance at the World Mixed Curling Championships where he guided debut Hong Kong to 3 wins and a respectable middle of the group finish. Australia's Hugh Millikin will be making his 24th appearance as skip of Team Australia! Millikin has won gold at this event 9 times, with the last being 2006, and last found the podium in 2012 (bronze). The 11-time world championship participant is a blazing figurehead and fan favourite within the region (#TwineTime used to cheer him on at world championships when I was a young kid...always loved a good #TeamUpset story). And of course Qatar will be making their sophomore appearance this year after an 0-8 finish in their rookie campaign last year. China, Korea and Japan are the Big 3 right now but the gap is once again closing and a few more nations are creeping up the competitive ladder, similar to what we saw back in the early 2000's.
Qualifiers: Korea (Kim), Japan (Morozumi), China (Zou), Chinese Taipei (Shen)
World Championship Berths: Korea, Japan, China
Championship: Korea (Kim) def. China (Zou)
Top Teams Entered: Satsuki Fujisawa (Japan), EunJung Kim (Korea)
Favourite: We probably should list co-favourites here as both Team Japan and Team Korea are going to be overwhelming favourites in this field. Fujisawa and Kim already have their Olympic tickets punched and this event will serve as a great tune-up in preparation for February. However both teams come to Erina with opposite swings of momentum. Fujisawa has qualified in 4 of 7 events and has 1 championship win to her credit....way back at the season opening event in Hokkaido, Japan. The team sports a nice 24-14 record on the year but the results have been inconsistent and the team has looked great in one event (or even one game) and then struggled the next event (or next game). You can always count on them smiling though! Kim has a similar overall season record, sitting at 23-12. They have only qualified in 3 of 6 events...but they just happen to be their last 3 events played. In 2 of those events they reached the championship final, losing to Paetz in Stockhom and defeating Kleibrink for the title in Aland, Finland as the final tune-up for this event. Both should safely qualify for the playoffs and the world championships but, right now, Kim looks to be the stronger team.
Dark Horse: Outside the regular Big 3 (Korea, Japan, China) we could probably account for the other 3 nations entered (Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong) to be co-dark horse contenders. What makes this even more intriguing is the history of these three teams. Hong Kong made their debut last year, with the same team skipped by Ling-Yue Hung, and finished 2-5. Australia and New Zealand will both be skipped by new teams this year. Chelsea Farley has represented New Zealand since 2013, including 4th place finishes in 2013, 2014 and 2016. Bridget Becker returns as New Zealand skip for the first time since 2012, having led the nation to 4th place finishes from 2008 to 2010, and will be looking to guide New Zealand to a world championship for the first time. Becker should be a familiar name for some as she has been representing New Zealand at the World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship for a few years now. Australia has been led by Kim Forge from 2007 to 2014, with her best result being 4th in 2007 and 2012. Australia failed to field a team for the 2015 #PACC and last year sent Jennifer Westhagen, who finished fifth with a record of 3-4. Forge returns this season as vice to Helen Williams, who returns for the first time since 2005.
W2W4: What do we make of Team China at #PACC2017? Similar to the men's team not being Team Lui, who is having a great season, Team Wang is not here competing. Both of these teams are expected to compete at the last-chance Olympic qualifier next month but one would think they would be competing here to gain some more competitive ice-time and gain momentum. Rather Yilun Jiang will represent China (as will Dejia Zou for the men) in hopes of booking the world championship spot. Perhaps the thought here is if Jiang and/or Zou do well (or even win), they would earn the right to represent China at the world championships, especially if both Chinese teams do qualify for the Olympics. Huge opportunity for the two China teams here...but also weight of expectation. Imagine if either (or both) slip up and finish 4th? The nation would miss the world championships and could possibly miss the Olympics as well. The odds are pretty slim on this happening; however, the once dominant nation is starting to feel the pressure in the region as rivals Japan and Korea seem to be passing them by.
Qualifiers: Korea (Kim), Japan (Fujisawa), China (Jiang), New Zealand (Becker)
World Championship Berths: Korea, Japan, China
Championship: Korea (Kim) def. Japan (Fujisawa)
There you have it curling friends, your #PACC2017 preview. If the #TwineTime predictions hold true, Korea will take home the double gold, becoming the first nation to do so since China pulled the double in 2014. Think of the momentum for both Korean Olympic teams if they can find the top of the podium too. You have to think curling ticket sales in PyeongChang will go up!
To stay up to date on all the action on the ice in the land down under, check out the numerous World Curling Federation's broadcast partners (including NBC and the Olympic Channel) as well as live event coverage on the WCF YouTube channel HERE. And tweet away your comments, well wishes to the teams and predictions using the hashtag #PACC2017.
Don't forget to check out the UPDATED #PowerRankings to see how last weekend's Masters results, as well as other #wct events, impacted the rankings.
#TwineTime also throws out a few good luck stones to those fam members competing in #wct events this weekend. Best of luck to Niklas Edin and his #SwedishVikings along with #MrSmiles Kirk Muyres, #DunnyIsMoney Matt Dunstone and their #TeamOranje as well as John Cullen fresh off a recent birthday and Team Joanisse all competing in the Ashley Home Store Curling Classic in Penticton, BC. Luckily they are all in different pools so we could see the entire fam qualify for the playoffs! Danielle Inglis will also hit the ice this weekend at the Royal LePage OVCA Women's Fall Classic in Kemptville, ON. As well, Mark Kean will lead his ShopWoodstock.com team back on the ice at the CookstownCash spiel in Cookstown, ON. Best of luck to all the members of the #TwineTime fam! A few other members will be in final preparation for the Road to the Roar event as well as the upcoming USA Curling Olympic Trials.
Speaking of, #StayTuned....with the Road to the Road Canadian Olympic pre-trials event set to begin on Monday in PEI, #TwineTime will have your full preview and predictions sliding into your house this weekend. Get excited #curling fans.....