UWO hosting unique bonspiel

ERIC BENDER -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

It could be a sports trivia question in years to come so tuck it away in your cranium to look like a genius: Where was the first international wheelchair curling bonspiel in North America held and when?

Answer: At the University of Western Ontario, Dec. 8-11, 2004.

"This spiel is the first time in Canadian history for an international event to be held in North America," said London's Chris Daw, who skips Team Canada, the squad that will be going to the world championships in Glasgow, Scotland Jan. 17-23.

To date the only international play in the developing sport has been at the world championship the last three years in Scotland and Switzerland (twice). Now the sport will be introduced at the Paralympic Games for the first time in 2006 in Turin, Italy.

Daw and his team, with heavy local flavour in lead Karen Blachford of London, second Jim Primavera of Scarborough and third Bruce McAninch of London, qualified for the world championship last week in Vancouver, going 4-0 in a five-team round- robin and beating B.C.'s Jim Shannon in the semifinal and final.

His team is among seven playing at Western's Thompson Recreation and Arena Complex. The top two teams in the world are here. Scotland is defending world champion, Switzerland is the silver medal holder. Canada took bronze. Other teams are the U.S.A., British Columbia, Manitoba and Toronto.

"We're looking at the top three teams here," said Daw, 34, who hopes to make it to the Paralympics in his fourth sport. He's already participated in track, basketball and rugby.

Daw and his team were introducing B.C.'s Gerry Austgarden as an alternate for Team Canada. Austgarden is being rotated through Team Canada's six games with each regular sitting out in turn. Austgarden will skip for Daw against Manitoba today.

Event organizer Trevor Kerr said the bonspiel is an opportunity for Canada's wheelchair teams to get experience because funding doesn't allow the curlers a lot of chances to compete.

"Wheelchair athletes get the same assistance from Sport Canada but can't get out and do the fundraising like other people," Kerr said.

The bonspiel, with draws at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. each day and medal games at 3 p.m. Saturday, is funded by Sport Canada, the Canadian Curling Association and the Dominion of Canada General Insurance Company.


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