World Women’s Curling Championship: South Korea’s win over Heather Nedohin’s Team Canada another sign of the sport’s changing landscape

Don Landry
The Eh Game

Have some sympathy for Heather Nedohin. It ain't easy being queen.

Queen of the curling world.

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In case you're wondering, Canadian women are currently mired in their longest gold medal drought in the history of their participation at the World Women's Curling Championship.

When South Korean Skip Ji-Sun Kim played a tap to the four foot in the tenth end for a deuce and a 4-3 win in Saturday's three versus four playoff game, Nedohin's crew immediately knew the pain of Jennifer Jones, who had to settle for a bronze medal win in 2010. It remains to be seen whether Nedohin will rebound from her heart-wrenching loss to match that finish. (UPDATE: Sunday, March 25, 2012. Nedohin rebounded nicely, taking the bronze medal game, 9-6, over the same South Korean team.)

Nedohin's ouster at the 2012 edition means it's four years and counting since Canada has won gold in this event, the last champs being the aforementioned Jones' team, in 2008.

Although Canadian women continue to reign supreme in the total gold medal haul, winning 15 championships since the World's inception in 1979, the competition for that precious medal is becoming more and more fierce, with countries like South Korea rising to the challenge in recent years.

Indeed, China broke through for the nations of the Pacific Rim in 2009, with Bingyu Wang beating Sweden's Annette Norberg for the top podium finish.

The world of women's curling is more competitive and more crowded at the top, and it is no longer to be thought that the hardest part of taking a world crown is winning the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

Perhaps it never was that way anyway, as Canada has not won more than two straight since a run of four in succession between 1984 and 1987. The Nordic countries of Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and Germany have always provided stiff competition, each winning multiple gold medals. The U.S., Scotland and Denmark had all won single gold medals with China being added to that roster three years ago.

So, it's perhaps a bit of a myth that a Canadian Championship pretty well automatically meant a World Championship.

Jones, a four-time Canadian champion, has won the world title but once. Colleen Jones, a six-time Canadian champion, managed to convert to world gold only twice.

The great Sandra Schmirler was the most adept at piling on the ore, following up three Scotties' wins with three World Championships.

The Koreans' win on Saturday is not a total surprise. They'd played a superb round-robin, running up a record of 8 wins and 3 losses. That was a big turnaround from last year, when Ji-Sun Kim made her world debut and skipped the team to a 2 and 9 record. Like Jamie Koe's Territories team at the Brier, they were the story of the week, signalling that they had arrived as stiff competition for anybody. While they'd lost a close one to Canada during round robin play, their pedigree was cemented with a solid 9-8 win over another perennial curling power, Sweden.

The expectations Canadian women and men carry while wearing the maple leaf are daunting and those expectations need to be tempered with the realization that curling has a new world order of sorts, at least on the women's side.

The sport means more to more countries and that's very good for the game. The Russians are attempting to challenge for a medal at the Olympic Games they are hosting in 2014. So, they sink more and more money into training. Ditto for the South Koreans, who seem well ahead of their probable progress chart, after being thumped at the 2011 Worlds. They want a top podium finish when they host the Olympic Winter Games in 2018 and are throwing scads of resources at that ambition.

We've seen what that can do, what with the Chinese women and their meteoric rise to world curling power. The irony of that is, this year, they also got a taste of how hard it is to stay at the top, finishing out of the playoffs with a dismal 3 and 8 record. That record included a loss to the new darlings of the sport, the South Koreans.

While the money game for Canada's curlers has gotten better and better over the years, it still falls short of the levels that make them curlers and nothing else. Scotland's Eve Muirhead is a professional curler. Paid to curl. Nothing else. The Chinese, the Koreans and the Russians have athletes dedicated to the sport and precious little else.

If that doesn't make it tough enough to stay on top, we're helping the rest of the world to beat us.

We invite teams to come to Canada to play and learn. We send coaches to them, too.

Elaine Dagg-Jackson, coach of the Canadian women this week in Lethbridge, spent three years as coach of the South Korean team, from 2000 to 2003. While she didn't mentor the current South Korean skip, she helped the game gain a beach head in Korea in its infancy.

The South Koreans make a number of trips to Canada every year, to take part in competitions and, as importantly, just to watch and learn.

It's great for the sport, to have it growing in what would have been seen as a non-curling country not so many years ago.

The other edge of that sword, however, is that it will only make it tougher for Canada to claim the top of the hill in the years ahead, as more and more countries make the trek up that slope.

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