SAPPORO – Both Japanese curling teams at the Asian Winter Games have their sights firmly set on the Pyeongchang Olympics in a year’s time, but this tournament could be bigger for the women after their recent loss in the nationals.
There is a chance of five-time men’s defending national champion SC Karuizawa Club not qualifying for Pyeongchang, but they have some margin for error. The team only needs a seventh-place finish at April’s world championships in Canada to punch its ticket, and become Japan’s first Olympic men’s curling team since 1998.
LS Kitami, also representing Japan at the Asian Games, won the women’s nationals for the past two years but is reeling from a failed title defense this month against Chubu Electric Power in the final. The two sides will meet in September for the women’s Olympic berth with Japan guaranteed to appear at its sixth straight Olympic Games.
“We lost in the final, but I didn’t want to dwell on it so I’ve been training with a refreshed mindset. I could really focus for a week after the nationals,” said women’s skip Satsuki Fujisawa on Saturday following Japan’s opening-day win over Qatar.
The 25-year-old won four straight nationals at Chubu Electric Power before she moved to LS Kitami in a bid to appear at the Olympics, and things were looking bright as she guided Japan to the silver medal at the world championships last March with her new team.
But a failure to reach the final at the Pacific Asia Championships saw her team miss this year’s world championships, and she was dealt her latest setback by her former team.
“This (Asian Winter Games) is the last tournament of the season, but the next season starts early in September, so I have to make good use of this occasion,” she said. “There are strong teams here like China and South Korea, and hopefully it helps us gradually build toward our peak for the new season.”
Mari Motohashi, the captain of Japan’s delegation to Sapporo, appeared at the 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympics and is ready to make the regional meet a valuable chance to further the bond within team.
“What we mustn’t forget is to trust the team even when we all want to improve as individuals. Improved individuals do not mean a better team,” she said. “This has been a season in which we had to learn that the foundation of everything is to believe ‘we can win playing in this team together.’ “
“I know things don’t get any more difficult the season after winning the nationals. (But) as a team of adults, I believe we do need mental stability.”
The 30-year-old, who made her Olympic debut at the age of 17, is willing to lead by example.
“We’re made up of members who have and haven’t been to the Olympics, but it’s good to have the fear of spending a season on the edge, of not knowing whether we can go to the Olympics.
“Members, including me, know the satisfaction (of success) that can come after that so I’d like to guide them there, but I also will bear in mind we’re all on the same starting line.”