Team India on the rocks in Richmond

Men’s rink competes at 20th annual Pacific International Cup with Olympic dreams

They left Richmond with no hardware but the invaluable experience will go a long way towards chasing their Olympic dream.

Team India made their debut at the 20th edition of the Pacific International Cup (PIC) that wrapped on Sunday at the Richmond Curling Club. The men’s rink featured four Indian nationals who now work in North America and came together via Facebook to play in bonspiels.

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After initially entering beginner tournaments, the team has stepped up its game.

The PIC offered an ideal format where rinks from throughout the continent and beyond play games over four days.

India opened with a 7-6 win over Australia then proceeded to lose its next six games. A 6-4 extra end loss to last year’s B.C. runner-up Abbotsford was also among the highlights.

“I watched curling during the (2006) Torino Winter Olympics and instantly fell in love with the sport,” explained 32-year-old P.N. Raju, the team’s skip. “I Googled to see where was the nearest I could play and they were building a rink in Northern India for the South Asian Winter Games but it was for ice hockey and skating.”

Raju would get to throw his first rock six years later when he accepted a job in San Francisco. His teammates — Giri A.S., Vinay Goenka and Kishan Chennai work in Chicago, New York and Denver respectively. The men have even gone back to India to run introductory “street” curling sessions for kids.

“During the Winter Olympics, curling is the most watched sport in India,” continued Raju. “I think it’s because it’s like chess on ice and chess was invented in India.  A lot people like the whole strategy aspect of it. It’s so much fun to watch, especially when a lot of rocks are in play.”

Now Raju gets to see curling on a regular basis thanks to ESPN and has even attended a camp run by his idol — Russ Howard — who won gold at Torino for Canada that year.

“We did our first bonspiel about three-and-a-half years ago and usually get together a couple of times during the year,” he added. “We were at a bonspiel in Seattle the previous weekend but I had to go to India for work. It’s a learning process for sure.”

It’s progress off the ice that could have the Raju rink representing its country soon.

The World Curling Federation (WCF) won’t recognize India until it has created its own curling governing body. For that to happen it has to be endorsed by the India Olympic Association.

The hope is it will be officially welcomed during the WCF Congress in September. That would pave the way for India to play in the Pacific Asia Championships in November and potentially the 2022 Winter Olympics qualifier.

Extra Ends…

Comox Valley was crowned 2019 men’s PIC champions after an 8-1 win over Royal City. The B.C. dominance also included Langley defeating Abbotsford 7-4 for bronze.

Yukon took the women’s title with a 9-5 win over Nanaimo.

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