Chinese rink at home in Edmonton

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:19 PM ET

Bingyu Wang was one year old at the time when Edmonton and Harbin, in the Northern China province of Heilongiiang, were twinned in 1985.

She was two when Harbin mayor Gong Benyan came to Edmonton with a Chinese construction crew to build the Chinatown Gate at 97 Street and 102 Avenue, and to formally rename the stretch Harbin Road.

She was three for the reciprocation of that, the naming of a 4.5-kilometre stretch of Xingang Rd. on the route to the Harbin Airport as Edmonton Boulevard.

Who knew back then that Wang and her Harbin friends Yin Lui, Qingshuang Yue and Yan Zhou would come to Edmonton in 2005 to immerse themselves in curling, and end up winning a world championship and an Olympic bronze medal.

Who could have figured their Chinese coach Weidon “Tom” Tan would have his daughter enrolled in Grade 6 in Edmonton and that Bingyu “Betty” Wang and her gang would decide to use Edmonton, the acknowledged world capital of curling, as their base for the next Olympic quadrennial leading to Sochi, Russia in 2014.

This year, they haven’t been around town until arriving for the Continental Cup in St. Albert, where they’ve at least provided one win for an overwhelmed Team World. They haven’t shown up with Tin Yip, their local liaison, for their monthly Karaoke visit to Checkers in Sherwood Park for, well, months. But they’ll likely be around lots after returning in September next year with hopes to base themselves out of here again.

“We want to try,” she said. “I think so.”

Right now, they are without a Canadian coach, Dan Rafael having completed his contract to coach both the men’s and women’s national teams for China.

“We miss Big Dan, but that was his choice,” she said of his decision to spend the next four years coaching Italy.

“We miss him because he brought us a lot of success. We have to find a new Canadian coach by the next Olympics.”

Like most elite teams this year, they’ve been playing less than a full schedule.

The team competed in only five events this year before arriving here this week after using a substitute at lead to qualify for the world championships through the Pacific Rim tournament.

They also played with various parts of their team in bonspiels in Regina, Calgary, Saskatoon and Winnipeg.

“I think we’ve come to know Western Canada more now than we do China,” Wang laughed.

The team has been off and on, together and apart, some taking advantage of the year to explore educational opportunities in the U.S.

Wang spent a lot of her time this fall in Wisconsin, joining different teams in a curling cultural exchange of sorts.

“I went to the U.S. and played with three different teams for one month in Wisconsin,” she said.

“It was good. With the old team, you talk a lot about releases and deliveries and strategy, but when you are on your own, you don’t think that way. It’s not so serious. It’s more fun. It opens your mind to other things.

“There was a burnout factor after last year. This season my lead, Yan Zhou, has had a lot of free time. She has taken more free time to study and I think it was good for us to take a break away from each other.

“The break was good for us. We have been together almost every day for three years, thinking the same way, always curling, leaving no time for small things. That’s why we needed the break. This isn’t only for curling. You go outside and you learn other things, watch other people, and it broadens your scope of interest. That’s great.”

That includes coming to this very different event and choosing to be a lot more like all the other curlers.

“In the last Continental Cup we just played the games and went home to bed,” she said.

“This time we asked ourselves ‘Why don’t we go outside and enjoy the small parties and the beer and tomorrow we can play again.

“It’s a good event to work on communication and we know most of the North American teams and we are good friends already, so we shouldn’t be shy. We can learn much from the other teams playing with them here.”

In this event, the Chinese girls have decided, all the play doesn’t have to be on the ice.

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terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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