Marcel Rocque's unlikely Olympic debut
SOCHI, Russia (AP) — When Canadian curling great Marcel Rocque retired in 2010, one of his biggest regrets was failing to make an Olympic Games.
As the lead in the so-called "Ferbey Four," he won three world titles and four national titles in a five-year period at the turn of the century. Yet, the Olympics always eluded him.
He'll put that right in Sochi.
Chinese curling officials asked Rocque last year to take charge of their men's and women's teams for a 10-month period up to and including the Olympics, with the aim of continuing the development of one of the sport's emerging powers.
Embedded video_content_type: China wins curling opener against Denmark 7-4
After rejecting their advances several times, the lure of a return to curling's highest level — this time as a coach — proved too enticing. He took a sabbatical from his job as a school teacher in Edmonton and found himself back on the road, touring the world with his adopted country.
His latest stop? The Ice Cube Curling Center in Sochi.
"I'd have given my left arm to play at an Olympics," Rocque said. "I lived my dream, accomplished everything I wanted to do — other than the Olympics.
"It was hard decision (to take up coaching with China) because I wore the Maple Leaf with so much pride, but for the sport of curling I've always given. I'm doing it for curling as much as myself ... our sport needs to be healthy in many countries for it to grow."
Time will tell whether his impact helps China's women better their bronze medal from the Vancouver Games. Or whether the country's men's team can improve on its eighth-place showing in the 2010 games, in its first-ever appearance at the Olympics.
What is for sure is that Rocque has fostered a great atmosphere among the Chinese teams.
There they were on Saturday, showing off big smiles and exchanging high-fives and banter with their mentor after a practice end. Compare that to the build-up to Olympic tournament in Vancouver, when China's women's curlers were so inside their own bubble they refused to talk to the media.
"He's been very good. He makes me feel that I am bigger, stronger," said Wang Bingju, the skip of China's women's team.
"I used to watch him so many times on the TV and see him in the papers, in pictures. I can't believe he is standing next to me here."
Embedded owg_slideshow: Meet Canada's women's Olympic curling team
Wang first came across Rocque when they were both playing at a tournament in Edmonton in 2003. They practiced alongside each other and Rocque marveled at the Chinese women's technique.
The challenge since becoming their coach, though, has been to improve the other facets of their game so they can narrow the gap to the sport's elite.
"Some of it is tactics ... some of it different shifts in ideas," Rocque said. "Part of that comes from experience, part of that comes from coaching, part of that comes from confidence — saying to them, 'You can do this.'"
Since leaving his job and his family — wife Raylene and two kids, Gabriella and Isabella — back at home to take up his new role in China, Rocque estimates he has spent 30 days in his own bed in Edmonton since July 1. He has been back and forth from Canada to China and coaching the teams in tour events and weekend tournaments, basically living out of a suitcase.
And it all comes to this — his first Olympics and then the world championships in Beijing, after which his contract ends. He doesn't know whether he will stay on in the role, if he is even offered a position.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Preparing Sochi's Ice Cube for curlers
"If you follow the progress of the (women's team) for example, they started in 2002. In 2008 they lost the world finals, in 2009 they won the world finals, in 2010 they got an Olympic bronze medal," he said.
"Eight years to do that? I haven't seen another nation come close to doing that ... If you aren't shooting for gold (in Sochi), there's something wrong."