Playoff curling in Cortina

Japan and Italy: young hopes for the future

by Rodger Schmidt

CORTINA D’AMPEZZO, Italy – From today onward, most spectators will not recall that 12 teams started in this competition, for all eyes and commentary will be on the top four.

With no tiebreakers, there was only one game today, the Norway-Canada Page playoff battle,  to determine who advances straight to  Sunday’s championship final.

Scotland and the United States will wait until Saturday morning to see who will drop directly to the bronze medal game, and who will move on to the semi-final later the same day.

The big question of yesterday’s final round-robin draw was twofold: if the U.S. could hold on to fourth spot, and this they did by defeating Sweden in six ends, and to see if Norway or Scotland would challenge Canada in today’s 1 vs 2 match.

Norway cleared that up by beating Canada to finish number one, and securing last stone advantage in their next two games, and Scotland made it less dramatic by losing their last game to Switzerland, thus handing last stone advantage in the 3 vs 4 playoff to the Americans. Given the way Scotland manages a game, this could be an important factor.

With 12 teams in this competition a lot of games were been played to get to this point. In this system of play, everyone meets everyone else one time to distribute an equal number of victories and defeats. The trick for all is to not collect four or more defeats within the 11 games.

Fans, fans, in the stands...

The team “on the bubble” was Denmark. The Danes had a solid week, defeating pretty much everyone that they should have, but in their head-to-head matchups against the eventual top four, they could only defeat the USA – holding on to an early lead thanks to a score of five on the second end. However, they lost to Canada, Norway, Germany and Scotland, and all were top four contenders at the time that these battles were contested.

One more win against these big boys was required to be ensured, at minimum, a shot at a tiebreaker. Close, but no cigar for Ulrik Schmidt and company, but a much better showing here than at the Vancouver Olympics.

No team in the rest of the field was able to post a winning record, and the biggest surprise within this not-so-magnificent-seven was Germany. Andy Kapp called and executed a terrific game against Canada on Tuesday night, handing Canada their first defeat, and then the next morning the German jet fighters ruled the skies again against Denmark.

But sadly, it was all Hindenburg after that. Germany crashed three straight times to finish with six losses.

Italy has not competed well in world men’s competitions since a solid showing at the Torino Olympics in 2006, and with Joel Retornaz back at the helm – but with very young teammates – they managed only three victories. However, the hosts were very competitive in most of their games and obviously more experience is required in order to manage pressure in key moments. This group has some real talent.

Switzerland had an older and more experienced team in this competition, led by Stefan Karnusian, and at times their style of play looked old. From game to game and from end to end, rarely was an outcome clear. They made brilliant shots to score or to subvert an enemy position… and moments later they would miss when you would least expect it.

On the final day they lost 9-7 in the morning to Japan – the sole victory for the Japanese – and then won 9-7 over playoff-bound Scotland. That, folks, sums it all up.

France: time for a rest, boys

The records of Sweden and France – four wins and three wins for Per Carlsen and Thomas Dufour, respectively – were much more predictable. The French are probably ready to take a break after a long, long Olympic preparation run, and this Swedish team – which  upset the impressive Niklas Edin in the Swedish final – was simply too inconsistent to put a string of victories together.

Both Asian teams – China’s Fengchun Wang/Rui Liu combo and Japan’s Makoto Tsuruga – closed out the bottom of the leader board this week. This may be a surprise to many, following strong showings by Japanese and particularly Chinese teams in the past half-decade… but I am not so surprised. It is easier to climb near the top than it is to stay there.

For all teams: the work you do and the skills you learn, both strategically and technically, need to be adjusted and upgraded all the time. How you won games yesterday will not be the same as how you are going to have to win today, and certainly not tomorrow. Asia will be back on top again, but not until they reinvent themselves and redevelop their systems.

Quick trivia question: without Googling, name the historic international curling event at which Japan’s Tsuruga competed, over a decade ago… and how did he do (generally)?

As I write this, we’re less than an hour away from the start of the second NOR-CAN tilt. Stay tuned to the blog for more later.

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New Norway Curling Pants

Yes, the secret is out. And our eyeballs hurt.

The secret is out!

The latest version of the Norwegian Curling Team Pants is set to hit the ice in gorgeous Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy this Saturday.

The event, of course, is the 2010 Capital One World Men’s Curling Championship. And the originators of the Pants Craze, Thomas Ulsrud‘s Olympic silver medallists from Norway, open their campaign at 14:00 CET against Scotland’s Warwick Smith.

The only question is: will it be the blue and white checkered pattern for Game 1, or the swirling multicoloured… flowers?

“I just follow the fashion police,” is all that skip Ulsrud has to say, nodding to teammate Christoffer Svae. The burly second thrower (second from right in the John Hauge photo at left) is the one who found the pants, made his teammates wear them during the first Olympic practice in Vancouver… and the rest is history.

“I must admit that when I saw 10 cameras following us in that first practice, I thought: ‘This was a good idea then, Christoffer,’ ” Svae told Norway’s Aftenposten.

The blue and white pants were worn by Norway’s junior men’s team at the World Juniors in Champery, Switzerland earlier in March. Norway’s Paralympic wheelchair curlers then followed up with a tealish-blue and white pattern in Vancouver, plus Ulsrud’s original Olympic design, and of course the Norwegian women’s team went full-on bonkers with a wild, spotty “disco” pattern last week in Saskatchewan (photo can be seen here).

As reported a few weeks ago on The Curling News Twitter feed, Team Norway has since inked a sponsorship deal with Loudmouth Golf, the U.S. manufacturers of the pants.

Stay tuned to The Curling News for more info on Team Ulsrud, the Cortina Worlds and so much more in this fantastic 2010 curling season.

It ain’t over yet, folks!

[Aftenposten photo by John Hauge. Click to increase size]

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Italiano Anniversario Curling

It was a little over a year ago that the Curling Italia website launched itself into the online curling universe.
Congratulations on your one-year anniversary, particularly to founder Renato Negro, who also produces the Curling Torino website and blog.

Italy has maintained a presence on the world curling scene since the 2006 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games featured curling in Pinerolo. The nation has hosted various global competitions including last April’s World Mixed Doubles Championship in gorgeous Cortina d’Ampezzo, which will also play host to this season’s Capital One World Men’s Curling Championship.

Forza Italia!

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More Brazil, New York Times Curling

The New York Times, and Brazil, are both back on the curling trail.

This new Times story focusses on icemaking guru Hans Wuthrich and why he wants to make Vancouver’s Olympic curling ice “bumpy”. There’s nothing necessarily Brazilian about this story, except for the accompanying Yannick Grandmont photo (shown above).

It is interesting to see this kind of entry-level story coming out in mid-August, given that variations of this tale will be told and retold again from about January right through the round-robin portion of the Games.

Let us pray for one thing, however: if the Times is to continue publishing curling stories – which would, of course, be fantabulous – we need to get them some new curling stock pics. Yes, January’s Brazil story (and the pics) was interesting… but that is so last season.

Incidentally, we can expect to hear of another Brazilian challenge for a berth into the 2010 Capital One World Men’s Championship in Cortina, which the United States will be expected to host again, early in the new year.

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Curling Print: the Ferbey Four

So, Randy Ferbey and his troops went back to the future with their absolutely enormous win over Glenn Howard in the final of the Grey Power Players’ Championship.

Actually, it’s been quite a season for the Ferbs.

Their increasingly desperate search for that elusive spot in December’s Olympic Trials saw them travel the country at a frenetic pace, with Ferbey and lead Rocque Marcel competing, at one point, for 10 weekends in a row prior to Christmas.

Then there was the big win at the Casino Rama Skins Game in January, which featured the Ferb’s first win over arch rival Kevin Martin in some 10 or so attempts.

Then came their second straight series of three losses, all to KMart, to lose the Alberta Tankard championship. Off Martin went, to his fourth consecutive Brier.

After licking their wounds, the squad travelled to Bear Mountain – played some golf, threw some rocks – and started gearing up for the Players’ Championship.

And the rest, they say, is history. Or in the case of the Ferbey Four, the chance to rewrite history, come December.

All of this adds value to a special collectible artwork print the Ferbs have for sale, by artist Janet Deane (above, click to zoom in). Yes indeed, the Olympic Dream is alive and well.

Fans can select a limited edition Giclee framed print in two sizes, either 22×35 or 14×22.

Order through this website.

Elsewhere in this world of curling… which is still very much active, by the way…

• The World Mixed Doubles are into the playoffs in gorgeous Cortina D’Ampezzo in the mountains of Italy, and there is tons of stories and pics available front and centre at the WCF website.

. At this time of writing, Hungary has emerged through two sets of tiebreakers to take on Finland, and the winner plays undefeated Canada in one semifinal. China and defending champions Switzerland are in the other semi.

Canadian competitor Sean Grassie is a budding journalist – as we explained during the Canadian Mixed – and Grassie is once again writing a column on his experiences for his hometown Winnipeg Sun. You can find his thoughts, in order, located here, then here, then here, and from today

• And let’s not forget the World Seniors, underway tomorrow in equally gorgeous New Zealand …

• DID YOU KNOW: that a car blog – of all things – got in on the Ford Worlds excitement in Moncton, with two postings, here and here? Well, okay, now you do.

• Speaking of Moncton, Swiss third Jan Hauser, who ranked in the top 5 of the TCN Blog’s “Ford World Hotties” competition, seems to have his very own, er, dedicated fan

• Seems that after saying something rather forceful about Scotland, Cary was forced to eat some crow

• And Canadians should eat crow. Not only did the Lockerbie four win three in a row against the red and white, the hosts then proceeded to play the wrong national anthem… a point we have previously noted, and which gets some (fortunately) good-natured Scottish griping here

• Yes, it was a victorious return for the Scots, and good ol’ Bob was there, too …

• WCF President Les Harrison sent in this letter of thanks to his hometown newspaper …

• It’s finally happened. Osama Bin Laden has appeared in a curling spoof.
Funny yes, or funny no?

• DID YOU KNOW II: that amid the hullaballoo over KMart throwing his world championship away, the Old Bear did it again, at the Players’ Championship?

• Curling has got Jackie going ARRGGHH. We know the feeling …

• And finally, poor Aaron. His curling debut was total FUBAR

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