Photo: Darryl Dyck

"VANCOUVER — Team Canada won its first world wheelchair curling title Saturday at the new Vancouver Paralympic Centre.

The team of skip Jim Armstrong, third Darryl Neighbour, second Ina Forrest and lead Sonja Gaudet defeated Sweden’s Jalle Jungnell 9-2 in seven ends in the gold medal game of the 2009 championships.

Germany, a newcomer to the event, took the bronze medal with a 6-4 victory over the U.S.

Despite dominating able-bodied curling, Canada had never won the wheelchair championship, although the country did win the gold at the 2006 Turin Paralympics. In fact, Canada had not even made the podium at the last three championships.

“It feels fantastic,” said Armstrong. “It’s been a big learning curve, and this is my first big event of consequence.”

Despite the loss, the silver medal was Sweden’s best-ever finish at the world championship."

“Obviously it is very great for us to go this far,” said Jungnell. “One difference (today) is that Canada played really, really well.

The gold medal-winning Canadian side is heavily weighted with B.C. athletes. Armstrong and Neighbour are both from Richmond, while Forrest hails from Armstrong and Gaudet from Vernon. Coach Joe Rea is from Prince George. The only member of the team who’s not from B.C. is Chris Sobkowicz of Winnipeg.

Canada, which placed fourth at last year’s world championships in Switzerland, started the week-long event slowly, losing three of its first five games. But a lineup switch that saw Gaudet inserted at lead seemed to spark the team. Team Canada won three of its last four round-robin matches then, in playoff action, defeated the U.S. 9-2 and Germany 10-4 before topping Sweden in the final.

“We struggled early, and as the week went on and on we got stronger and stronger,” said Armstrong. “The team played great.”

The same venue will be host to the 2010 Paralympic Games curling event next March.


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