Surprising Koreans lead the World women’s pack

Guess who’s leading the Ford World Women’s Curling Championship with four round-robin matches remaining? What’s that? Who? Odds are you wouldn’t have mentioned unsung Korea, a nation with a handful of curlers competing at this level for only the fourth time in history.

Team Korea sweeps hard during the 2012 Ford World Women's Curling Championship. (Photo: CCA/Michael Burns Photography)

But it was Ji-Sun Kim’s team from Euijeongbu City, north of Seoul, that moved to the top of the standings Tuesday night at the Enmax Centre, outlasting its Pacific Rim rivals from China 7-5 to expand its record to six wins in seven games. That’s right! Korea! Six wins! Double the nation’s best-ever output at the World level. Korea first sent a team to the World rockfest in 2002. It didn’t win a game and it was back to the drawing board. Seven years later, another Korean team skipped by Mi-Yeon Kim managed three wins. Ji-Sun Kim skipped Korea’s third entry last year and won twice. Which brings the story front and centre to the current skirmishing and the current astounding record.(Continued Below…) Draw 11 Photos
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“Maybe lucky,” said a choked-up 24-year-old Kim. “Maybe very lucky. Yah, very unbelievable!” Korea hit for an opening three but China stickhandled in front 5-4 after six panels. Then Korea took a go-ahead pair in the eighth, 2009 world champion Bingyu Wang (2-5) blanked the ninth but was short on an open last-rock draw in the 10th, yielding a critical stolen point. “I don’t know,” said Kim, struggling to make herself understood in English. “My shots are good and we keep winning. My team leader gives me a lot of confidence. So I feel good.” Curling with Kim are 23-year-old third Seul-Bee Lee, 33-year-old second Mi-Sung Shin and 22-year-old lead Un-Chi Gim. A three-team traffic jam developed one game off Korea’s pace with Canada, Sweden and Switzerland sharing 5-and-2 records. Nobody else in the field boasted a winning record heading into the penultimate day of round-robin action starting at 9 a.m. MT. And two of those teams with a pair of defeats — homestanding Canada, represented by Heather Nedohin’s Edmonton troops, and unsung Korea were on a collision course in today’s morning matches. Canada tumbled off its perch for the second straight night. The Nedohin-skipped unit was outpointed 8-4 by Sweden’s Margaretha Sigfridsson. The Swedes climbed into the deadlock along with Switzerland’s Mirjam Ott of Davos who manufactured a jolting six-ender in the third end that keyed a 9-5 seven-end verdict against Linda Klimova’s fading Czechs (2-5). “We didn’t have a particular good game against Russia earlier so it felt good to go out and have a really well-played game against Canada,” said Sigfridsson, who skips the Swedes and throws lead rocks while long-time teammate Maria Prytz handles the last shots. “It was really fun. We don’t get that many chances to play against Canada so, of course, you want to win. “The team played evenly well. And we had a lot of great last rocks from Maria. She is a wonderful fourth player and she has both the nerve and eagerness to play the last rocks.” Sweden punched three-enders on the board in the third and fifth ends with Prytz delivering clutch shots on both occasions to get away from the Canadians who never were able to build an offensive when in possession of the hammer. Ott praised the spirit of her Swiss teammates. “We have a good team spirit, we fight for each other, and that makes for a lot of fun,” she said. “You know, four women together? No, no, but we really do get along well together. We have momentum but we have to keep it up for the next games.” In one other late result, Allison Pottinger of the U.S. won her third straight on the heels of four losses, clobbering Diana Gaspari (2-5) of Italy by a 10-1 score. Kim boosted her record in the afternoon after pulling another rabbit out of her hat, coming back from an 8-5 deficit to stun Lene Nielsen (3-4) of Denmark 9-8 in an extra frame. Kim scored a deuce in the ninth, stole one in the 10th and another in the 11th, putting up a series of high guards that made it impossible for the Danes to exploit any sort of strategy in the rings. Kim struggled with just the right English words to answer how she felt after the win. “Very fun, or very terrible, or unbelievable, I don’t know,” the trembling, diminutive Kim said, before agreeing that it was likely her biggest win on the international stage. Kim described her early play as “terrible,” but added the team showed up when the game was on the line. “In nine and ten ends, I really, really wanted to win. So we are winners.” Elsewhere on the middle shift, Sweden took a tumble, losing 7-3 to Russia. The game’s highlight was a five-ender by the Russians in the sixth end to salt the affair. The Russians, skipped by Anna Sidorova of Moscow, had dropped a tough morning draw 7-5 to Canada. “It was a really great end (the sixth) and it was actually difficult because you already know you have four,” said Sidorova, “but to make the shot to get the fifth!” Sidorova added that while her teammates felt a little fatigued they were becoming more confident. The afternoon draw helped to create a logjam of teams at 3-4 — the U.S., Scotland, Germany, Russia and Denmark. Scotland’s Eve Muirhead fought her way into that fray with a tidy 8-5 win over the Czechs. Muirhead, who admittedly struggled with the stones early in the week, said she was feeling more comfortable at an important juncture in the tournament. “That was a solid performance, and I felt we did play well against Switzerland as well. I’m throwing it well and the stock shots are starting to come off well,” said Scottish skip. Muirhead was asked if she was making it ‘tough’ on herself, doing things the Scottish way. “Yes, I like to do it like the Scots,” she said with a laugh. “Don’t want to fire too early.” Scotland, a pre-tournament favourite, lost its third straight in the morning, 5-4 to Switzerland’s Ott. Melanie Robillard’s Germans posted a 9-6 win over Italy’s Gaspari. The key shot in the contest, a great set-up by Robillard for a three-spot in the ninth, was one of the few shots she made all day by her own admission. “Every game we’re getting better and better, I’m getting to know the releases a lot better,” she said. “I’m really exhausted. I’m not used to being in the house and doing so much thinking.” Nedohin’s Canadian team temporarily climbed back atop the heap in the morning, striking early for a 3-0 lead and proceeding to conquer Russia. (Continue below…) httpvh:// The Canadians started strongly and roared in front 3-0 after two ends, but Russia battled back and stole a tying deuce in the fifth. “We gave up that steal, yeah, but she made a great last shot to get in there,” said Nedohin. “I still like the way we came out at the start for a change.” Nedohin came right back with a deuce and held Russia to singles the rest of the way when they had the hammer. Second player Jessica Mair missed the day’s action with flu symptoms and alternate Amy Nixon checked in at second. “We’re fortunate there,” said Nedohin. “We have our own medical doctors. We have a good second to fill in. We should have Jessica back for the playoffs. That’s all good.” Nedohin said her team had seen a lot of the Russians on the women’s tour. “The only uncertainty is what their lineup’s going to be,” she said. “It’s ever-changing.” Elsewhere, Pottinger executed a perfect feather-like sideways chip into the button with last rock to avert an extra end and defeat Germany 9-7, Scotland lost its third straight, 5-4 to Switzerland and China’s Wang got untracked and won her second, shading Denmark’s Nielsen by a 7-6 margin. Pottinger got off to a 5-1 lead after four ends against the Germans, then became embroiled in a wild shootout and wound up leading 8-7 in the 10th. The game was decided on a measure. “It was for one, one way or the other,” said Pottinger with a shrug. “If we lose the measure, we go to 11, we have the hammer. “Winning feels pretty good,” added the Yank skip. “Especially in a game like that when it comes down to last shot. That’s when you really start to believe, and throw your shoulders back a little bit. We’re starting to build momentum. “Sure we’re still in it. You see every game out there is coming down to the last end. I think every team is right in the mix this week. We know we put ourselves behind the eight-ball but we just have to roll off some wins now and the chips will fall as they may.” Euro champion Muirhead exited the premises scratching her noggin in frustration. “We had a bad sweeping judgment in the sixth end that cost us (the Swiss stole one for a 3-1 lead),” she related. “If we’d have scored there I’d have been confident enough. We got two to tie in the ninth and I was confident we could put them under more pressure in the last end but unfortunately we didn’t come up with that last stone.” Muirhead was millimetres short on a freeze and Ott didn’t require the last rock. “Angry?” she repeated a question. “I’m getting there, slowly. Like what can you do? We were shooting well out there and it came down to one or two misjudgments. When you’re throwing the rock well like that and you don’t get the results there’s nothing you can do.” Ott admitted to nerves, playing the team that rolled through the Euros in December like an express train. “We were a little bit nervous in that game so it was important for us to get the win,” said the 40-year-old Swiss skip. “Each game is very important, but in that one we had to fight the hammer.” The Scots blanked the first, then was forced to one in the second but the Swiss took singles in the third, fifth and sixth to take a 3-1 advantage. “As soon as I saw that my team was on track I became hopeful,” said Ott. China’s Wang pointed to a lineup change that she felt led to her morning success. “My team plays much better,” she said. “Susan (Qingshuang Yue) is my old second and I feel so comfortable when she is on the ice. I think that really helped.” China hit Denmark with a fourth-end trio and refused to relinquish control thereafter. “Right now,” said Wang, “we just have to win games.”