SANFORD, Man. – With opportunities reduced to gather due to the pandemic, Dennis Thiessen is not worried that Canada’s wheelchair curling team might be short on chemistry by the time the next Paralympic Winter Games occur.
After a couple of tough seasons following its Sochi gold medal performance in 2014, the 2019 Canadian Curling Hall of Fame inductee and his teammates are enjoying success again. They won the bronze medal at the 2018 Paralympics in South Korea then added a silver at the 2020 world championships in early March just before COVID-19 lassoed the planet.
‘’I’ve been probably more fortunate than my teammates when it comes to ice time during the pandemic,’’ said Thiessen, 59, a national team member since 2012 who resides in Sanford, Man., near Winnipeg.
‘’I’ve been on the ice four to five times a week when it’s available and played some league games as well.’’
At the world championships this past spring, Thiessen was joined by skip Mark Ideson, Ina Forrest, and Jon Thurston. Both Forrest and Ideson are also veteran players while Thurston joined in 2019 and with his deadly marksmanship throws fourth stone. It was Canada’s first world championship medal since gold in 2013.
That experience may be an advantage for Canada, once the Beijing Games get underway in 2022.
‘’It’s always good to get together especially for Mark to see how we are throwing and develop some strategies,’’ said Thiessen, whose 23-year-old daughter Katrina is also curler and has competed at the Manitoba Scotties. ‘’But we’ve played together a lot over the years and the way we are keeping sharp on our own, I feel very confident that this longer time apart won’t be an issue.’’
Canada has an interesting history in wheelchair curling. It won gold at the sport’s first three Paralympic Games appearances (2006, 2010 and 2014) as well as three world titles over that period. Then they were off the podium at the next four worlds. That forced Canada to re-qualify for the 2020 worlds which it did winning the B-worlds in late 2019.
‘’It’s the way we are approaching it now,’’ said Thiessen, who lost a leg at age 17 in a family farm accident. ‘’We made some changes on how the line-up goes and we are feeling more and more confident.
‘’Our strategies are more solid and we know exactly how we want to shoot.’’
Of course, the rest of the world has improved by leaps and bounds since those 2006 Games in Turin.
‘’The international play has also come up so much stronger, the strategy has changed,’’ said Thiessen. “Ever since I’ve been with the team, other countries are always looking at Canada. They’ve taken their strategy to another level.’’
China and Norway were 1-2 at the last Paralympic Games while the Russians have won four of the last seven worlds. Still with the deeper field, Thiessen is confident for Beijing at both the still scheduled 2021 worlds and 2022 Paralympic Winter Games.
‘’I just see us climbing and climbing and coming up with the gold in 2022.”