By NATHAN BURDON – The Southland Times

There’s something incongruous about seeing the Chinese curling team performing tai chi on a gravel road in the middle of the Maniototo.

This is Naseby, a town that time should have forgotten, only the people around here wouldn’t let it.

Nestled among one of the most stunning landscapes in a country that prides itself on stunning landscapes, Naseby’s jewel is an international-standard curling rink. The Winter Games curling championships is the biggest event the million-dollar facility has hosted since being completed earlier this century.

It’s a big deal not only for the sport, but for the district.

Thirteen teams have been competing across men’s and women’s competitions during the past two weeks, with semifinals staged yesterday. All but the Chinese teams, which have a large entourage and have been staying at nearby Ranfurly, have been based in Naseby itself.

The patriarch of New Zealand curling is Peter Becker.

He’s the coach of the New Zealand women’s team, son Scott is a member of the men’s team, another son Sean used to be the team’s skip and daughter Bridget is the skip of the women’s team.

Becker is happy to sit down for a few minutes and give a novice a quick lesson on the intricacies of this ancient Scottish pastime.

Teams of four compete, with the main aim to get 19kg stones as close as possible to the middle of the centre circle.

Two others work feverishly with brooms to help get the stone to the far end of the ice, while the skip calls the shots.

It’s a bit like bowls, a bit like chess and a bit like playing pool.

There’s a balletic grace to the way the stones are released, then the furious broom work of the sweepers, followed by the hard thud of the stones.

It all combines for a rhythmic, almost hypnotic, dance that is surprisingly absorbing.

In recent years Asian countries have started to dominate on the ice. Chinese, Japanese and Korean teams have all made their presence felt in Naseby this week, hence the tai chi demonstration outside.

In yesterday’s action, China beat the United States 9-6 in the tiebreaker to advance to the men’s semifinals.

Third-seeded Australia beat second-seed Korea 8-5 to advance to today’s final where they will play China, which beat Japan 11-3.

In the women’s draw Japan beat Korea 6-5 to book a place in the final alongside China, which was made to fight all the way before winning their semifinal against Becker’s New Zealand women’s team 7-3.

Website Pin Facebook Twitter Myspace Friendfeed Technorati Digg Google StumbleUpon Premium Responsive