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Heroes and Hyperlinks

Many thanks to all for the positive comments – here on The Blog and via email – on our efforts during Torino 2006. Please keep the subscription orders coming: the printed version of The Curling News is still our lifeblood, and a successful TCN allows us to add value via blogging and other initiatives.

A pile of stuff to wade through today, simply because we’re not sure how much blogging we can do over the next week… we have two days to crank out the March issue of TCN, before heading to the STOH for both CBC and the National Post. We need an assistant!

Before we begin, a shout out to an old public school chum, David Naylor, whom we caught up with in Turin, as well as additional thanks and cheers to Naylor’s colleague Christie Blatchford, who wrote in the Globe and Mail that The Curling News is, and we quote, a lyrical and literate little jewel.

Grazie, signora.

Triumphant airport returns for Canadian curlers: the men here in the Big Smoke (Brad Gushue in photo) and then, oh yes, in St. John’s, where the party is probably still going on… plus the women here… and down south in “Curling Capital USA” where newly-bronzed Pete Fenson will no doubt be slinging pizzas at the parlour tonight… and even in Finland, where an unbelievable 30,000 people want to learn the sport. Like, wow.

Hey, did you know that no less than three Canadian talismans were buried in, under or adjacent to the ice as the playoffs approached? Yeah, we did, but we didn’t want to say anything.

Did you also know that Cindy Klassen, Canada’s Olympic superwoman, has just signed a $1 million sponsorship deal? Her agent is Elliott Kerr of the Landmark Group, who has also been representing Russ Howard since the dark days (now most certainly forgotten) of the infamous legal action against the Canadian Curling Association, circa the early 1990s… what’s next, Elliott? A new deal for The Wounded Moose, perhaps? But with or without the Gushies?

It could take forever to wrap up Turin… so let’s get cracking, and prepare your fingers to hyperlink away!

• Here’s a look at the microcosm of curling within the spectrum of the Winter Games themselves… the Italians are still hot on the sport… and here’s the view from Spain

Mass U.S. interest and commentary continues, in Rapid City, SD; via letter defense in San Antonio; the venerable NY Times reports on 1,000 people showing up at Broomstones for an open house; here’s Lebanon (er, not the Middle East, just Pennsylvania): Charlotte chants “Om” to curling… Dulltooth (just kidding!) is predicatably all over the curling craze… San Jose lists Gushue’s win as one of the top five Games moments… Arizona feels the buzz… here’s some thoughts on the “whiteness” of the Winter Olys and curling as a sport in “technical terms”… This Red Sox outfielder, a Canadian, has never tried curling… here’s a Dallas writer’s take on the bronze game… a solid U.S. curling wrapup with questions about the fallen CurlGirls… too funny: here’s how AP described that Fenson bent the winning rock into the target area…meanwhile, Cleveland described how Fenson curved his stone around a block to nudge another Great Britain stone out of scoring range… and look, we’ve discovered the amusing Michael Hunt in Milwaukee, also with an earlier curling piece here.

• Indeed, the curlers were the Rock Stars of Italy, even if a high-profile Sports Illustrated type needed to experience it firsthand in order to change his mind, after first writing something mildly nasty (if funny)… ditto for the odd radio jock as well, crow thus eaten and lessons well learned…

• Okay, so it was Mark who streaked during the men’s bronze match. Commentary continues, seemingly nonstop, even in India (?!), but we’ll say this once again… thanks for not stepping on the ice surface, fella!

• Internationally speaking, the Finns have a lot to say, about curling (and hockey) of course, including wondering if Gushue’s missed seven-ender was just him being “polite”… Andrew Baker of Britain’s The Telegraph is brilliant:

The top three are awarded medals. Fourth prize at the Olympics is a kick in the teeth, a crock of manure or any other metaphor you prefer for sporting despair. It is far better to finish fifth, and dead last has its attractions. Fourth stinks.

And another Baker gem, about the streaker:

Indeed, one member of the audience became quite carried away, divesting himself of all clothing and racing around the arena with only a rubber chicken to protect his modesty. This being an ice rink, there wasn’t much to cover up.

Speaking of the Brits… er, Scots… there’s a great zinger from a UK journo here and, back on ice, the U.K. supersquads have returned to their old rivalries with their national championship starting today… there’s also some grumping in NZ as winless Becker carried the flag in the closing ceremonies, as well as the opening.

• More funnies: this guy made a curling song, and these guys loved the sport as well as the calendar (in addition to this guy)…

• Last but not least, and away from the Olympics for a moment, The Kids Are Alright (once again) at the STOH, which is doing well on many fronts… and which features a birth-control edict for one team!… and Team Ferbey reminded everyone just how good they still are – had you forgotten? – by winning the third Grand Slam of the year…

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Olympic Curling M Final: Canada!

PINEROLO, Italy – What an incredible 2006 Olympic Winter Games… for the sport of curling.

• It was an unprecedented love-in between curling and the world and U.S. media from the first rock onward, and it only grew with each passing day. For Americans, the onslaught of interest and commentary didn’t even waver when the U.S. CurlGirls did, as they quickly plummeted to the bottom of the standings.

• There was on-ice controversy over playing conditions and off-ice mayhem involving illness and team dynamics… mostly with Team Canada (x2) but on other squads as well.

• The Kiwis debuted, the Japanese made a remarkable mid-week recovery to challenge (as did the equally surprising Russians) and three legends may have finally bowed out with illustrious careers at their backs: Pal Trulsen, Dordi Nordby and Peja Lindholm.

• Ridiculously huge TV ratings swept the world – over 20 per cent of the entire nation of Finland watched their team’s men’s semi-final victory, and 12 million Japanese watched their team’s upset of Canada – steered by one of the greatest teams of Canadian curling TV experts ever assembled from three networks: CBC, TSN and Sportsnet. And the return of the track-cam for the semis, bronze games and golden finals was merely the icing on the cake… and on that latter note, a great big SCREW YOU to the Canadian boo-birds who chased it away to begin with.

• Curling had its first streaker. Coupled with the fuss over Playboy and the calendar, it made for a head-shaking week.

• The Swedes proved their vaunted status as number one in women’s play, with the Swiss continuing their strong Olympic legacy of medalling every time, including in demonstration years. And Canada’s women once again recovered from disappointment to grab a spot on the podium, for the second Games in a row.

• Bronze for the U.S. – finally, the desperately sought podium spot – as Pete Fenson may have just saved the sport in the lower 48.

• Finally, the men’s gold medal final.

Two incredible stories to tell. The first is of a giant tree of a guy from faraway Finland, who grew up throwing rocks on ice about as good as asphalt. He eventually built a curling club – Finland’s first and only – using his own money plus grants from the World Curling Federation, and quit his career job to manage the facility and throw practice rocks.

Two years ago he was down and out: no more touring and spieling in Canada for a month on end, as his funding had run out. Split from his longtime third and buried deep in the miserable B-pool of the European Championships, his team won the B-pool round-robin, then a semi and final, and then lost a World challenge game to Russia… but it was a best two-out-of three. He then won the next two games to scrape into the 2005 Worlds.

At those Worlds he appeared – with just one set of team jackets, re-used from earlier competitions – to be down and out again, early in the week, but reeled off a whack of consecutive wins to finish in that heinous six-way tie for first, at 8-3. That got his team in to the Olympic Winter Games, where they started the week at 2-2… before rolling yet again to a stunning finish at the top of the table, and beating Great Britain in the semi for a guaranteed Olympic medal… now gleaming silver in the cold Finnish night.

Said Markku Uusipavalniemi after the semi:

This result will improve our marketing strategy. It will generate more enthusiasm for our supporters.

Gee… do ya think?

Now for Team Canada.

Down and out with a missed shot to win the Canadian Juniors quite a few years ago, a young and very green Brad Gushue was comforted in the hallway by some guy named Russ Howard, merely a Hall of Fame Brier skip who had lost out in no less than three Olympic Trials events – including 1987 in Calgary.

(TCN remembers well the gesture Russ and his brother Glenn made in 1997; while spiriting out of the hotel in the early morning after Mike Harris‘ improbable Trials win, the Howards slipped a note under Harris’ door, congratulating his team on their win and wishing them the very best in Japan. The Howards, you see, had defeated Harris in back-to-back Ontario championship finals in 1992 and ’93.)

Redemption came for Gushue with world junior gold, followed by a spate of Brier appearances and a reputation as a great shooter, possibly the best that Atlantic Canada has ever produced. But a raunchy fall start to the 2005/06 season led to discussions about the team lineup, and fifth man Howard – recruited earlier at the Edmonton Brier on the recommendation of either (or both) coach Toby MacDonald and CBC commentator Harris (the story varies) – was pulled into regular duty, a duty made seamless by the selfless act of lead/fifth Mike Adam.

The rest is well-known. Amazing play from the new Team Gushue – a throwback to that unexpected ’97 Harris year – in Halifax for the Trials title and then poor play and visible discontent in the first week of Torino 2006. But the gut was checked and the team sprang to life just in time to cement a playoff berth, and then overwhelmed both the USA and Finland in the semi and final.

Gushue on the cell phone just seconds after the game had ended… some U.S. journo will give him flack for that, to be sure, but we know he was calling his mom, who has been battling cancer all season, and who could not be here in Italy to see it all in person. Talking to his mom about his Olympic dream, which has possessed him since his junior days, and how he would soon wear Canada’s first-ever men’s curling gold around his neck.

Arrivaderci, Italia. We’re off for a few days of well-earned rest, and will be back in Canada early next week. By then the 25th anniversary Scott will be in full roar – heck, it starts tomorrow – and there will be lots to talk about. As usual.

Thanks for reading.

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USA wins first Olympic curling medal

PINEROLO, Italy – Despite the unexpected arrival of the infamous GoldenPalace.com streaker (photo) – certainly doesn’t look like the legend, though, does it? – the USA was the real story at Pinerolo today, winning that country’s first-ever curling medal.

Bronze to Pete Fenson and his team from Bemidji, Minn., after they defeated David Murdoch of Great Britain 8-6 for the second time in the tournament – and fourth time in Fenson’s career, against no losses.

Third Shawn Rojeski after the semi-final loss to Canada:

Our first medal will mean a lot. If somebody had told us at the beginning of the week that we would play for bronze I wouldn’t have believed him. Now we’ll just step back a little and see what we can do.

Thanks to Bram Weinstein, radio host of Sportstalk 980 in Washington, D.C., who caught the streaker on camera and shared his photo with The Curling News. Incidentally, that’s a rubber chicken hanging between the streaker’s legs, and he never did step onto the sheet in play (thanks, dude). He got the loudest guffaws for making a sweeping motion to the Yanks, before head official Keith Wendorf bundled him into a jacket and escorted him from the ice.

There was only one other fellow trying to corner him before Wendorf arrived, and no sign of the incredible security presence which has done a great job of hassling photographers and journalists all week. Remarkable.

Elsewhere:

Nike has been getting requests for the U.S. curling unis…

• You are aware there’s a Grand Slam going on, right? The Masters is underway in curling-crazed St. John’s right now, with the semis and finals on Rogers Sportsnet

• We haven’t seen this guy and we also thought 1998 U.S. Olympic skip Lisa Schoeneberg was the one in charge here in Pin, but whatever…

This U.K. story published before the bronze match wins our Headline of the Day award…

Hey, look! A new Mr. Grumpypants – sorry, Ms. Grumpypants – has dared to be different and scathes the sport…

Well, okay, this one is really today’s Headline award winner…

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Olympic Curling W Final: Sverige!

PINEROLO, Italy – Team Anette Norberg of Sweden, heavy-metal queens (photo) and now Queens of Curling, received flowers tonight and will receive Olympic gold medals tomorrow night at Medals Plaza in nearby downtown Turin.

Hammerfall will be pleased.

It was tough battle against Switzerland’s Mirjam Ott, who scores Olympic silver for the second Games in a row (she played third for Luzia Ebnother in Salt Lake City).

The see-saw clash saw Ott suffer a bad pick on her last rock of the seventh end to trail 5-2. But she made a great angle-tap for a deuce in the eighth – mysteriously left for her by Norberg – and she did a great job of forcing the Swedes to a single in the ninth. Then came a classic deuce for the tie in ten, and an extra-end.

The Swiss threatened yet again, but Norberg chose a double-takeout – a hit and roll would have done it – on her last puck to claim glory.

Tomorrow sees the USA and Brits battle for bronze, and then Canada’s Russ Howard/Brad Gushue meets the amazing Finns, skipped by M-15, for gold. Back on The Rock, the provincial government has offically closed all schools tomorrow so kids can watch the Gushies in action… and we have our eyes peeled for the Premier, who is rumoured to be considering a late flight in for the match.

Elsewhere:

Today’s edition of the BBC’s Ask Anna features curling;

Relax, Kiwis… there’s no way your Olympic curlers dislike each other, they’re far too friendly at the core;

The Curling News had an interesting run-in with some U.S. journos, and while it’s not precisely what was said, it’s close enough;

• Americans are still buzzing about the sport, in Colorado… and in Wayland, Mass. (is that near Lowell, anyone?)… of course in Minny, the heartland of the U.S. Olympic teams… in Laurel, Maryland… in Fargo (yah)… and even Super Bowl City, Pittsburgh

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Bronze for Canada

PINEROLO, Italy – Finally!

One day after the Canadian men put it all together on the ice for – really – the first time since the Trials, Canada’s women‘s team did the same in defeating Norway’s Dordi Nordby for the Torino 2006 Olympic bronze medal.

Quote of the day from Amy Nixon, third for Team Canada’s Shannon Kleibrink, from this AP story:

Dude, I thought I wasn’t going to make it through the week. I thought I’d be IVed, so I’m happy.

Here’s the view from Ingerlund, and also from… China?! … not to mention Australia, which also offers the best headline seen in a while.

Sweden versus Switzerland for gold tonight…

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Shot of the day

PINEROLO, Italy – Here’s the Shot of the Day, not from the ice… but through a camera lens.

This photo of Canadian second Glenys Bakker was taken just five minutes before her march onto the carpet, and then the ice, for the Olympic women’s semi-final.

Bakker was sitting in a stairwell, alone with her thoughts before the big game.

It’s tough to come back from such disappointment to challenge for bronze, Olympic or otherwise. Kelley Law and her Vancouver foursome did it for Canada four years ago in Salt Lake City, Utah, and now it’s up to the Calgarians, led by Bakker’s skip Shannon Kleibrink, here in Italy.

Game time 1:00pm (or is it 1:30?) local time… early AM in North America.

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A humdinger of a golden final


This one, to be contested Friday, should be a humdinger.

The Canadians finally fired on all cylinders here tonight, reminding one and all just how they steamrolled their way to the Olympic Trials championship back in December. A stubborn Pete Fenson hung in as long as he could, but was already overwhelmed by the time the five-ender was even a reality. 11-5 Canada and a date in the final… and another chance for Canada’s first-ever men’s gold.

In the other semi, Great Britain’s David Murdoch faced off against Finland. Markku Uusipaavalniemi (photo) is indeed a blur as he and his mates love to throw it high and hard, and this ice is perfect for them. But today they mixed their gunfire with a calm, unflappable draw game, and when Markku dropped a steal in the ninth for a 3-3 tie, one got the distinct impression he wasn’t too rankled.

Indeed, after a nifty hit and freeze by Murdoch in the 10th, Markku couldn’t throw his favoured hit to win the game, and instead covered the pin – almost nonchalalantly – with his final shot. It was a victory which no one would have ever predicted in the years, weeks and days leading up to now.

The Finns are for real; Canada is now for real, and the stage is set for a real showpiece. But first, there’s tomorrow’s bronze and gold medal women’s games.

Until then…

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Canada vanquished, Norberg on track

Agony for Canada as Shannon Kleibrink‘s Calgary foursome lose emphatically to an extremely effective Swiss squad skipped by 2002 Olympic silver medallist Mirjam Ott.

The weight of carrying Team Canada on her shoulders all week might have finally worn Kleibrink down. She shot only 66 per cent – to Ott’s well-earned 88 – and she faced tough situations – as usual – much of the time.

In the end, it was a missed guard that burned Kleibrink in the eighth. Instead of a strong steal opportunity she opened the door to a Swiss deuce… and it was all her doing. Unfair, to be sure, but this is sport.

On to the bronze medal game for the Canadians. There’s little time to grieve over what might have been.

Sweden’s Anette Norberg will meet the Swiss for Olympic gold. Norberg defeated Norway’s Dordi Nordby by a close 5-4 count in an enthralling match, and will look to cement her team’s place as one of the greatest to ever play the game. Move over Elisabet Gustafson – who is here with Swedish TV, by the way – there could be a new sheriff in town.

The men take to the ice tonight… and the first song the deejay is spinning on the in-house system right now is London Calling by The Clash. A sign of things to come for Great Britain’s David Murdoch, perhaps? He and his lads take on Markku Uussipaavalniemi and the streaking Finns, while Team Canada’s Russ Howard et al battle the USA’s Pete Fenson.

Stay tuned.

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Canadian women through to semis

Well.

A scary win for Canada in women’s play, a 9-8 win over an inspired Dorte Holm of Denmark. Glenys Bakker shooting 58% at third is not going to cut the mustard, but a persistent – and unsettling – listlessness still plagues the entire Calgary foursome.

One sheet over, Switzerland ended the Japanese dream with an emphatic 11-5 win, while Great Britain thumped the USA 10-4. In addition, the resurgent Russians took Norway’s Dordi Nordby out by a 10-8 final count.

As such… no tiebreakers. Canada (3) meets Switzerland (2) in one semi, while Sweden (1) battles Norway (4) in the other.

And a day off for The Curling News here in Italy… woo-hoo! We’ll be back on Wednesday… for now, the calendars are back on sale, and a couple of random ink spills, until we meet again…

• a story on a meaningful Feb. 24 for the U.S. men’s third;

• and this guy is convinced that curling is a sport and figure skating… is not.

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Canadian men through, Swedish rumours

It started badly… well before the match, in fact, with word that Team Canada men’s lead Jamie Korab was sick – up all night with flu-like symptoms – as well as Canadian women’s third Amy Nixon, the latest to fall to a carnival of Italian bugs.

But fifth man Mike Adam (at right in photo) was steady, Russ Howard (throwing) overcame a rough start, Mark Nichols (brushing) threw countless bullet bailouts – overcoming a couple of clunkers – and Brad Gushue established himself as a playoff curler as Canada defeated Pete Fenson’s Americanos 6-3 to claim a playoff spot at 6-3… and a repeat match with the USA (also 6-3) in Wednesday’s semi-final.

In the other semi, first-place Finland (7-2) will battle Great Britain (6-3). Watching today’s match with keen interest were tiebreaker hopefuls Pal Trulsen and Switzerland’s Ralph Stoeckli, both out of the running at 5-4.

It doesn’t matter to us who we play, Fenson said afterwards. I think everyone who is in the semifinals is playing well. No one snuck in the back door.

All it takes is for somebody to get hot for a day or two and the gold is theirs, said U.S. third Shawn Rojeski.

So the Gushies have done their part in trying to give Pinerolo a full Tuesday off. Meanwhile, Shannon Kleibrink’s Canuck girls did have Nixon in the lineup tonight until just five minutes before game time, but she had to bail and Sandra Jenkins is in action for tonight’s critical match with Denmark. The good news is that Dordi Nordby won her morning game against Denmark, it’s all in Canada’s hands, once again. A Canuck win, over Denmark, puts them through to the semis at 6-3 along with Sweden (first at 7-2) and Norway and Switzerland.

How’s this for a vicious rumour… it says that Sweden’s Anette Norberg threw her final game this morning against the Russians, allowing Norway or Switzerland (both in action tonight) to finish first, thus dodging a particular team in the semis.

True or false?

Also in conclusive women’s action tonight are three tiebreaker hopefuls: the remarkable Japanese, the surprising Russians and the reeling Britons.

In addition:

George Bush watched curling… a Newsday writer finally acknowledged enjoyment of curling, and further inquires about a curling club on Long Island – anyone?… a TV Blog has a discussion on American curling TV coverage, with TCN weighing in (naturally). The original poster, a negative kind of guy, was shouted down by positive Blogtorts, although he was bang on with this earlier posting

Speaking of TV, more ratings numbers on Olympic curling – numbers which would make Statman slather… the GB vs Japan game yesterday drew over 2 million Brits… and about 12 million Japanese. The squad skipped by Ayumi Onadero is still winning and their exploits have captured the imagination of their results-starved nation… and puts this Mainichi story from two days ago into the “premature” pile…

Here’s an interesting story logging Olympic excuses, incl some curlers… a comparison of the two GB teams, and Rhona Martin’s comments on her last hopes tonight versus the USA… ya just gotta love a curling story – plus photo – appearing in a paper called The Desert Sun. Why can’t we have a Winter Olympics every two years? … here’s an amusing one from Aspen, including axes for brooms and severed heads for rocks… this senior ESPN writer is now a fan… and finally, the call for LOC volunteers has gone out for Bahstahn and all areas near Lowell, Mass