The world curling championships are getting underway in Lausanne this weekend, and for the Swiss athletes involved it's not just world championship medals that are at stake.This content was published on March 30, 2001 - 18:31
Before thinking of a possible appearance in the finals, the Swiss men's and women's teams are hoping to first assure themselves of places at next year's Winter Olympics. The men, represented by the Biel-Touring club, must qualify for the semi-finals if they're to play for Switzerland in Salt Lake City.
The women's team from Solothurn must come away from Lausanne with at least the bronze medal if they're to overtake Bern in the national standings.
The reason for all this regional competition is the manner in which national curling teams are selected. Unlike in many sports, international teams are made up of existing sides rather than hand-picked individual players.
The system certainly adds some extra pressure to those involved but Swiss men's skipper Andreas Schwaller insists the selection format is in keeping with the nature of the sport.
"Team spirit is the most important factor in curling," he told swissinfo. "Members of a team have to be friends too. About 10 years ago in Canada they tried an experiment, putting together individual players, but it didn't work. I certainly prefer to have my own team."
Schwaller said that he would be concentrating on playing well rather than worrying too much about Olympic qualification. He does however see a place in the semi-finals as a realistic ambition.
Asked whom he thought would be the toughest opponents in Lausanne, the Biel skipper needed no time to consider his answer. "Canada," he grinned. "It's always Canada.
"They take the sport very professionally," explained Schwaller. "My team manages to take about 50 days off work a year for our curling. But the Canadians get even more time off. And the competition is very tough in Canada.
"There are also the Swedes," Schwaller reflected. "They're represented by the same team who won the world championships in Bern four years ago. The Finnish side are the defending European champions. So I think all three of those countries will be tough to beat.
"But then there's a lot of sides like us," he continued. "The United States, Germany, Denmark, it's a pretty wide field."
by Mark Ledsom
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