Team Aomori seeks results in Vancouver

by Hiroki Noda

Kyodo News

Japan’s Team Aomori returns to the Winter Olympics four years after bringing curling to an ever-increasing audience in the country.

Mari Motohashi, one of the two remaining members from the Turin Games, even has her own DVD, titled “Days Off,” which features her first trip to Okinawa.

Without doubt, the 23-year-old photogenic Hokkaido native is the face of the Japanese curling team in Vancouver, but she will not be happy with just another round of attention or an increase in her DVD sales. She wants results this time.

“Competing in Turin was a great experience, but I also tasted the bitterness of defeat,” said Motohashi, nicknamed “Marilyn” since the Turin Olympics because of her first name.

“I’m definitely a better curler than I was four years ago. We’re ready to show our team spirit.”

During the 2006 Olympics, Team Aomori gave Japan something to smile about when the country was mired in a medal drought.

The team upset Canada and Britain on its way to seventh place with a 4-5 record.

Moe Meguro, the other surviving member, believes in the team’s unity.

“We are a strong team,” said the 25-year-old skip. “Our ultimate goal is to make the last four and capture a medal in the end.”

Motohashi and Meguro have teamed up with Anna Omiya, Mayo Yamaura and Kotomi Ishizaki, a member of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic squad.

In the hunt for its first Olympic curling medal, Japan faces tough opponents in the first four games of the 10-team round-robin round: the United States, Canada, China and Britain.

“Looking at the first four opponents, a 2-2 start won’t be bad,” head coach Shinya Abe said. “But we know we can’t afford to drop the opening game against America.”

Host Canada and reigning world champion China are widely expected to compete for the women’s curling gold medal.

In the points rankings based on the places at the past three world championships, Canada is top with 37 points and China is second (32), followed by Denmark (30) and Sweden (26.5).

Japan had only 13 points, the lowest among the 10 countries bound for the Vancouver Games. Switzerland, Russia and Germany will also take part in the curling tournament getting under way Feb. 16.

Japan matched its best result in the women’s world championship with a fourth-place effort in March 2008 in Vernon, Canada.

Japanese men did not qualify for the men’s Olympic competition.