Living out an Olympic dream
Local curling legend Marcel Rocque always had dreams of reaching the Olympic Winter Games, and in February he got that chance in Sochi, just not with Team Canada.
The four-time Brier winner and three-time World Champion reached the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi as the coach of China’s men’s and women’s curling teams, and while he just missed out on the podium with the men’s team, he said it was an experience like no other.
“It was a fantastic experience. It’s interesting, it’s the first Olympic Games I go to and I felt so disconnected from the Games because normally at home I’d have the television on all the time, and here I was busy coaching two teams. So I didn’t get to see a whole bunch of other events, but within the village it was very neat. They had bicycles that you’d just pick up anywhere they were sitting and ride it to the lunch tent or wherever you wanted to go, to the workout facility or the entertainment facility. It was an interesting experience because you could walk into the dining hall and there’s Alexander Ovechkin. I was able to shake hands with him, and shake hands with a bunch of the hockey stars of the world,” Rocque told the Journal. “It’s kind of surreal because at that point everyone is kind of on an even ground. Everyone is equal, everyone is trying to live out a dream. It was really cool.”
Rocque admitted he was disappointed by the result, as his women’s team missed out on the semi final round, and the men’s team fell just short of a bronze, losing the third place match, 6-4 to Sweden, after falling 10-6 to none other than Team Canada in the semi finals.
“I’m a little disappointed, I’m not going to lie. I went in there with higher expectations and we fell a little bit short with the men’s. We had the chance that we worked for and we put ourselves in a position to win every one of those games, except the semifinals against Canada, we never really had a chance to win that game. Every other game that we lost we had put ourselves in a position to win, but I guess with those few mistakes, with the hog line violations and such late in the game becoming game changers, I was a little bit disappointed on that note,” he said.
“The girls, we had three games to qualify into that semifinal position also, and we never really got going. I felt we had a great year, I felt we went in prepared. I’m totally proud of these players, every one of them, regardless of outcome, but I did have a bit of a higher expectation, and I had some hopes there, but it didn’t pan out.”
While Rocque competed against and ultimately lost to Team Canada in Sochi, he still found himself cheering on Canada in every other sport, and even curling once the gold medal games rolled around.
“I did cheer for Canada for every other medal except for two, the two curling medals. Even at that, when we lost out, I was a pretty proud Canadian at the end of it all,” he said, adding he even spent some time with the Canadian curling teams. “I spent a lot of years working and coaching with some of those guys as well, so I got some good pictures of me in my Chinese garb next to the Canadian curlers. There was nothing wrong with that, it was really neat.”
Rocque added that he had to introduce the Chinese curlers not only to his western approach to the game, but to each other, as he found many of the teammates did not know each other very well on a personal level.
“You spend so much time together, and you ask them a question about someone’s mother or father and they have no idea . . . how could that be, you spend that much time together and you don’t know? Part of that might be culture, and part of that might just be, you know, I see my own daughter in the technology age and there they are on that darn phone all the time. Whether that’s part of it or not, who knows,” said Rocque, adding one aspect of training he stressed in China involved reducing the number of rocks thrown in practice.
“I reduced volume. They have large volume and sometimes what happens is you end up throwing rocks without thinking. In practice you can just kind of start throwing them and not really concentrating on each one. If you do that in a game, and you do that once and make a mistake, sometimes that one mistake is too many mistakes. So if you reduce the number of rocks they throw, and make them all count so to speak, chances are the mistakes don’t carry through into the game.”
Rocque faced a number of unique challenges in his role as coach of China’s national curling teams, but he said the language barrier was by far the most difficult to navigate.
“That’s by far the biggest challenge for sure. Sometimes we got into situations where, what would take our team four minutes and 45 seconds, a little clip to listen to that would speak of so many detailed things, it took me an hour to deal with (the Chinese team). It was time consuming. It was energy consuming,” he said.
Rocque’s contract with the Chinese national teams will end in April, and he plans on returning to his role as a teacher in May, but for now he will remain China to prepare his team for the World Men’s Curling Championships, hosted in Bejing, March 29 to Apr. 6.
“I love my job, I like working with those kids and I liked working with the athletes. It’ll be a tough goodbye, we spent so much time together, but it’ll be time to open up a different page in life and see where I go next,” he said, adding while his main role in China was to train coaches for the future, he would consider returning if given the chance. “I can’t say, if ever they offered me an opportunity, would I? I’d look at it, but I don’t live in the past or the future, I live in the present. As of right now my contract ends in April and we’ll go from there.”
Rocque added that he hopes he has made a positive contribution to curling on an international level by helping grow the game in China.
“It was just a beautiful experience. I definitely had some challenges when competing against Canada. I definitely love my country and they’re wonderful people, the athletes, they’re fantastic people. I had my challenges, but I gave back to the sport I love and I hope that my legacy in the sense of having taught 10 athletes to be the future coaches of the Chinese program allowed curling to grow and be healthy in China,” he said. “That was my primary reason for doing this, and I’m pretty proud that I got the opportunity.”