by Al Campbell
VANCOUVER, July 1 (Xinhua) -- Marcel Rocque, new head coach of China's national curling program, says his main priority as he begins his tenure is in ensuring the women's team qualifies for next February's Sochi Olympics.
With the China men's team having already qualified for Russia by virtue of a sixth-place finish at the world championship in April, the women's squad led by skip Wang Bingyu, the 2009 world champion, will be looking to join them with a successful showing at the final Olympic qualifier in December.
The Chinese women's team, who won a bronze at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, the country's first curling medal, will be among seven nations in Fuessen, Germany, fighting for the final two spots to be among the 10 nations qualifying for the Games.
"They're definitely skilled and I'm not sure why in the last few years they've underperformed, but that's my focus is to try to figure out what is causing them to underperform," said Rocque, a 42-year-old Canadian who was hired by the China Curling Association in June on a 10-month contract to oversee the men's and women's national teams, as well as three junior teams.
"I'm going in last minute trying to make some changes that might help them make small steps and small strides. Having said that, they've had success already so I'm hoping there are minor things I can bring that can make some big differences."
Edmonton native Rocque, a physical education teacher who has coached from the junior to national team levels in Canada, comes into the job with impressive credentials. As the lead on the Randy Ferbey rink, he won men's world championship titles three times, in addition to capturing the Brier, Canada's national championship, on four occasions.
An Olympic appearance, however, is the one thing notably absent from his resume. Despite failing to qualify as a player on three occasions, he tells Xinhua going to the Games as a coach will be the next best thing.
As someone who has curled against China men's skip Liu Rui, as well as trained with Wang's women's rink, Rocque said he was looking forward to arriving in China this weekend and getting to work to see how he can "get these guys to the next level."
"They (the men's team) are very consistent. They've had a sixth-place finish at the worlds, so all we need to do is get them to try and make one or two changes and get them to get into that top four and then who knows?"
Rocque, who will not be involved in player selection, said he planned to thoroughly assess the national team training program. He also wanted to make sure that the teams were not overtraining and to improve their shooting accuracy.
"I really don't believe it's technical. I think they are as strong technically as any other nation, including Canada. There might be some mental aspects that could be adjusted ... based on what I do know, they're technically very sound, so then it becomes a situation where mentally I think a big portion of the game is played mentally, so we just need to make sure they're focused."