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World Curling War Averted

As readers may recall, Canada and the World were headed for a big curling war just after the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver.

The story is long, and convoluted, and we gave it an acre of space in our gigantic April print issue (did you miss it?) but the nuts and bolts concerned the world championships – owned by the World Curling Federation at all times but managed (and sold) by the Canadian Curling Association when hosted in Canada. The new WCF, with its new branding and new Swiss-based marketing agency, wanted a new and very different deal for the Canadian-hosted championships, and the CCA wanted to hang on to the partnership formula that first started, in its embryonic state, way back in 1995.

Heading into the men’s Capital One Worlds in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, things were getting downright ugly. And there might have been some serious political fallout.

Fast forward to late June, when Canadian Curling Association boss Greg Stremlaw told us that he was “optimistic” that his organization – the biggest national sport federation in the curling world – and the world’s official governing body of curling would be able to negotiate a new deal on the future of World Championships in Canada.

We took that as a sign that the fences had been mended, and all would soon become right in our curling world.

Indeed. Today the WCF formally announced the signing of a new agreement with the CCA, which will see Canada hosting the World Women’s Championships in 2012 and 2014 and the Men’s World Championship in 2013.

And in the nick of time, too. This year’s Men’s Worlds in Regina (2011) was an extension to the old deal, and was agreed upon at the last second barely a year ago. The 2012 World Men’s will be hosted in Basel, Switzerland.

The deal is for a minimum of three years and provides the CCA with the first right of refusal for renewal.  The sites for the events in 2012, 2013 and 2014 will be determined by the CCA in consultation with the WCF.

Naturally, the agreement has the approval of the WCF’s worldwide marketing partner, Infront Sports & Media. Infront has formed a separate partnership agreement to work with the CCA during this period.

Under the new agreement, the Canadian sports TV channel – and CCA partner – TSN will continue to hold the exclusive broadcasting rights in Canada for the World shootouts.

In a break with past arrangements between the WCF/CCA and committees organizing the World events in Canada, the new agreement now gives these host committees a percentage of gross ticket sales. The CCA will also own the presenting sponsor position for all world men’s and women’s events held outside of Canada.

From heated tempers in April… to happy campers a couple of months later. Amazing what can happen when the snow melts, eh?

“The WCF is delighted to have signed an Agreement which will run to 2014 with our largest Member, the Canadian Curling Association,” says WCF President Kate Caithness. “This will ensure that alternating World Championships will continue to be held in Canada and will be a joint operation between the WCF and CCA.”

For his part, CCA CEO Stremlaw was quoted as such: “I am thrilled that the WCF, CCA and Infront Sports & Media have agreed on a unique concept which will allow the CCA to manage and operate these world events, on behalf of the WCF, and to leverage the marketing rights to Corporate Canada and beyond. I would like to thank the CCA’s project team that worked tirelessly on this partnership agreement and express my sincere appreciation to Kate Caithness, WCF President, for her cooperation and involvement.”

And just like that, all’s well that ends well.

We’ll have more details on, well, the details at some point in the future, certainly by the time we return to printed product in late October.

And now, back to where the real curling action is… Brazil! Of course!

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Olympic Torch is lit

It has begun.

The flame was lit in Olympia, Greece today for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games and carried off by the first relay runner on a journey of more than 47,000 kilometres to Vancouver.

The Olympic flame is to be carried 2,180 kilometres across Greece this week and will arrive in Victoria, British Columbia, on October 30 to embark on a 106-day, 45,000 kilometer journey throughout Canada.

Canadian aircraft manufacturer Bombardier is producing 12,000 identical torches, each weighing 1.6 kilograms, including fuel, which is a mix of propane and isobutane.

Twelve thousand relay runners will carry the flame before the opening ceremony in Vancouver on February 12. Curlers are included, and also –controversially – some of the media from Canada’s Olympic broadcast rights holder.

Torch designer Daniel Deschenes told AFP they were inspired by Canada’s “snow-covered landscape, sculpted by the wind, with traces in the snow or ice left by skiers or skaters.”

Deschenes said the torch would remain lit through “rain, sleet, snow and wind” and in temperatures from -40 degrees Celsius to +40 degrees Celsius.

And guess what? You can even download your own virtual Torch for use on your mobile device or computer.

What will they think of next?

[Photo by VANOC/IOC]

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Rehab Race for Armstrong

Team Canada wheelchair curling skip Jim Armstrong, who led Canada to its first-ever world championship gold medal in March, underwent shoulder surgery last week in Vancouver.
Canada’s major hope for a repeat of Paralympic gold at Vancouver 2010 had first confirmed the diagnosis of the injury back in July.

“I have a muscle tear in my left (non-throwing) shoulder that has been bothering me since before the world championships,” Armstrong had told Eric Eales of wheelchaircurling.com.

“The prognosis for a full recovery is good, but the surgeons are suggesting that rehab may take three to six months.

“The long rehab is a concern,” Armstrong continued, “but if I can get the surgery in a couple of weeks I plan to go ahead with it. Otherwise I’ll wait until after the Paralympics.”

And now, with that three-to-six-month window now in play, the race is on to get “Army” back in Paralympic Games shape.

[WCF photo by Dallas Bittle]

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2010 Olympic curling schedule

The World Curling Federation has released the draw for the Curling Competition at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
The draw is available via direct download at the WCF homepage, within the posting dated July 28.

Competition begins February 16 with three draws scheduled daily – alternating between men’s and women’s play – up to February 23.

Canada’s women’s team, which will be determined on December 12 in Edmonton, opens at 14:00 against Switzerland’s Mirjam Ott, the only curling athlete in history with two Olympic medals (silver in both 2002 and 2006).

Canada continues with matches against Japan on Feb. 17, Germany on Feb. 18 and Denmark’s Angelina Jensen, the 2007 world finalist, on Feb. 19.

Canada’s major crunch comes on the final three days of the round robin.

On Feb. 21, Canada battles 2003 world champion Debbie McCormick of the United States and, later, defending world champion Bingyu Wang of China.

On Feb. 22, their opponent is the defending Olympic champion and two-time world champion Anette Norberg of Sweden.

On Feb. 23, the Canadian women face another two matches, against Great Britain – most likely skipped by three-time world junior champion Eve Muirhead – followed by the round robin finale against 2006 European champions Russia.

The Canadian women do not compete on Saturday, February 20.

Canada’s men’s team, which will be determined on December 13 in Edmonton, opens with two matches on Feb. 16, against Norway (most likely 2008 and 2009 world bronze medallist Thomas Ulsrud) and Germany’s Andy Kapp, a two-time Olympian and multiple world finalist.

Following a full day off on February 17, the Canadians face two next-day opponents: Sweden (most likely the defending world university champions skipped by Niklas Edin) and then France’s Thomas Dufour.

On Feb. 19, Canada challenges Denmark’s Ulrik Schmidt.

On Feb. 20, Canada faces Great Britain’s David Murdoch, the two-time and defending world champion, in the evening draw. Murdoch defeated Canada’s Kevin Martin three consecutive times to win last April’s 2009 Ford World Men’s Championship in Moncton, and as reported by The Curling News, has been training specifically to defeat Canada for Olympic gold at Vancouver.

Canada then battles Switzerland on Feb. 21. The Swiss defeated Canada for Olympic gold at Nagano in 1998 and captured bronze at Salt Lake in 2002, and also scored demonstration gold at the 1992 Games in Albertville.

On Feb. 22 the Canadians meet John Shuster of the United States. Shuster was a member of the 2006 U.S. Olympic curling team, skipped by Pete Fenson, which scored the bronze medal.

On Feb. 23, Canada concludes the round robin with an afternoon match against China’s Fengchun Wang, the surprise fourth-place finisher at the 2008 world championship. This will mark the fourth consecutive day in which the Canadian men’s team competes only once.

February 24 is reserved for tiebreakers with the semifinals scheduled for February 25.

The Women’s Final takes place February 26 and the Men’s Final on February 27.

Canada has never missed the podium in Olympic medal-status competition, winning gold in 1998 (women’s) and 2006 (men’s) while scoring two silver medals in men’s play and two bronze medals in women’s play.

Venue photo by the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation

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Curling Camps: the HOT SHOTS

Our second posting in a series on summer curling camps focusses on the original “Fantasy” camp which has since dropped the moniker: the HOT SHOTS.

Now in it’s 15th year, the HOT SHOTS Curling Camp was the first camp to pioneer the “fantasy” concept of pairing high-performance elite competitors with the participants, who of course range anwhere from brand-new rookie to pretty accomplished competitive player (and all points in between).

The subtle name change has, in the words of veteran camp director David Gravelle, come about because “you the curlers, have demanded more from us. And, we’ve delivered.

“We’ve moved away from the celebrity participation to bring you more intense curriculum with highly qualified instructors and some of the top national and international coaches.

“This transformation has been a natural and gradual evolution of our sport with increased participation in the game but the lack of qualified instruction to keep our new curlers progressing on the path to increased enjoyment of this great game.”

There are three HOT SHOTS Curling Camps running this summer-slash-fall, and there are limited spaces available at all three.

First up is the traditional home of the HOT SHOTS, the Oakville Curling Club in Oakville, Ontario (one half-hour west of Toronto) on August 28-20. The second camp is on Ottawa, Ontario at the RA Centre on October 2-4, and the final camp is in the United States for the second consecutive year. The Utica Curling Club in Utica, New York is one of the oldest curling clubs in the USA and it hosts the HOT SHOTS from October 16-18.

Click here for the camp website and here for the registration page.

Anything else going on? But… of course…

• Those crazy Kiwis are working to launch another season of outdoor curling at Naseby, following a $200,000 rink upgrade

• Here’s a report on the recent Rocky Top Bonspiel held in Knoxville, Tenessee …

Joel Retournaz – that Italian Olympic hero from three-plus years ago – is back with a new youthful team, ie. an “ambitious project: …

• PEI’s world junior runner-up Brett Gallant has picked up two local awards

• CTV News says the Banff curling rink is being torn down and a new facility is scheduled to open in late 2010 …

• Can you guess the name of the influential curling coach who dropped this zinger on us recently…?

“I must talk far too much. Dean Gemmel put my interview into two parts.”

It’s Quebec’s Dan Rafael, of course, who is the head coach of the Chinese national curling team program. Indeed, he has a two-part show posted to The Curling Show and the occasionally blunt Canadian is always a good interview. You can listen to part one here, and we can direct you to part two here.

Rafael, by the way, has been in China for a couple of weeks already, as this is officially the start of the 2010 competitive season (say what?). Fresh from Beijing and then Harbin, Rafael is now in Qinhuangdao and will train with the teams until the inaugural New Zealand Winter Games in August. After that, Teams China head to Canada for September, October and part of November until the Pacific Curing Championships in Karuizawa, Japan …

• And finally, there is movement within the foundations of the World Curling Players’ Association. At last.

Nominations for new board positions have closed and several new board members have been acclaimed. Now representing women on the WCPA are Calgary’s Heather Rankin and Ontario’s Sherry Middaugh, while Europe’s single position has gone to Switzerland’s Simon Struebin, who throws lead pucks for front-running Olympic hopeful Ralph Stoeckli.

Voting will decide the men’s reps. Vying for a seat at the table are the following:

• Quebec’s Pierre Charette (currently Interim President)
• Vancouver’s Brent Pierce (a former WCPA regional rep)
Scott Pfeifer, second man for Team Randy Ferbey
Craig Savill, the Team Glenn Howard lead
Garth Smith, who is Kerry Burtnyk’s opening rocker
Nolan Thiessen, yet another leadman who plays for Kevin Koe.

The United States’ position features a pair of nominees, with John Benton taking on Bill Todhunter.

The new WCPA Board will consist of eight elected members, with a minimum five positions reserved for Canadian representatives. The group of five Canadian representatives will feature three male and two female members.

Read all about the nominees, their positions and the URL to go to to vote at this link

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Ford World Curling: Hotties part I

by Katja Kiiskinen

MONCTON – Today the bikinis and the beach towel were no longer needed, but in hope of some Caribbean atmosphere later in the evening I did bring a bottle of piña colada.

The drop in the air temperature is definitely good news for the players, and the ice. When asked about the condistions after Saturday’s final draw, Finland’s second player Jani Sullanmaa seemed slightly miffed when he stated: “Well, gimme a f***ing shovel and I’ll sweep.” I took it to mean there was a bit of frost.

Now to the really important things – hot players! After careful consideration, the jury has chosen the candidates for the “Hottest Player of Worlds 2009”. If you disagree with our choices, then I can’t really help you. No, but seriously, if you are adamant that there is an impossibly gorgeous and charismatic player who didn’t make it to our list, you can vote for him and we may consider your point – if it is well argued.

It is necessary to note that I personally was struggling with the choice because there is such an abundance of charismatic men on the ice. So, players, if you are not on our list, it’s all gk’s fault.

In my opinion, we ladies, as the smarter sex (just admit it, boys) look beyond the first impression. Whereas men would choose their candidates based on the tightest pants and the best sports bra, we ladies consider various different factors, such as charisma, eyes, smile, tightest pants and the best sports bra.

To be fair, we have chosen one player from each country. Today we will introduce the first six candidates and the rest will follow in tomorrow’s blog post.

Click on the photo montage above (featuring CCA images from Michael Burns) to view the pics a little larger.

And, the first six nominees are:

1. CZECH REPUBLIC

In case you were wondering, the looker with the poetic beard is Jiri Snitil, the chief of the Czech team.

Besides his curling abilities – and his unfailing devotion to the sport – this charismatic skip is also an excellent icemaker.

2. CHINA

Our chinese piece of hot stuff is second man Xiaoming Xu. He’s got some spiky fuzz atop his head and some sass in his smile. Some of you might also remember this talented player from the Continental Cup 2008 world team.

3. CANADA

Perhaps a little unsurprisingly, our option for the Canadian hunk is John Morris.

Mentioning his occupation would be unfair towards the rest of the guys, since it is one of those jobs that seem to give women all sorts of ideas.

In fact, Johnny Mo may have such an advantage over the field, we should find and use an unflattering photo. We’ll leave it to gk to try and post something that paints the normal JMo portrait in a different light.

How did he do, folks?

4. FINLAND

My personal choice for the Finnish representative would naturally be Kalle Kiiskinen, because he is just the bestest person in the whole wide world.

However, the idea of complimenting his fanny seemed somehow disturbing, so we decided to go with another spud of a man: Teemu Salo.

This Olympic medallist is known for being “cool” enough to wear a toque in any playing conditions.

5. FRANCE

Le Stud of the tournament is definitely Thomas Dufour, the long-time skip of the French team. He has been wooing the European crowds already for years, so it’s about time to introduce him to a wider audience.

He is also a ski instructor, in the beautiful snow-capped mountains of Chamonix. Ooh la la.

6. DENMARK

Our choice for the Danish lion man is the legendary Ulrik Schmidt. The veteran, who was off the ice and merely coaching this team two years ago, will definitely be the number one choice for the more mature female crowd.

Be sure to cast your ballot and check out the remaining six tomorrow! You can also have more than one favourite…

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Denmark curling history

VANCOUVER – The unprecedented continued at the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic curling venue as Denmark’s men, skipped by Rasmus Stjerne (far left in photo) overturned a previous playoff thrashing from Canada to deliver a smackdown of their own to the hosts in the gold medal match.

This gives Denmark its first world title in men’s play – ever. And that includes adult men’s competition, too.

The WCF writeup also tells the story of Stjerne’s victory drawing… no, not the one on the ice, but the one with pen and paper. Check it out.

Here are the history makers. WCF photo by Andrew Klaver.

Lyndon Little has the view from Canada here, and they’re already celebrating the women’s gold in Scotland

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Scottish curling history in Vancouver

VANCOUVER – Scotland’s Eve Muirhead and lead Sarah McIntyre (can’t forget the front-enders, right?) have made history here at the new Vancouver Olympic Centre by winning their third consecutive World Junior Championship in a very well-played, see-saw 8-6 win over Canada’s Kaitlyn Lawes.

Story here.

In the above World Curling Federation photo by Andrew Klaver, Canadian third Jenna Loder directs the line with Scotland’s Muirhead (right) and Anna Sloan in the background.

World Junior men’s final now underway: Canada’s smooth Brett Gallant and Denmark’s fiesty Rasmus Stjerne are battling in the fifth end, with the Danes stealing the fourth end for a 3-2 lead.

See the end of the WCF story for links to the live scoring, which creaked and groaned during the women’s final due to overwhelming demand…

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Gold for Canada, STOH finale tomorrow

VANCOUVER – If you thought Canada has dominated the world of wheelchair curling, you would be wrong.

Yes, Chris Daw and company struck gold at the debut of the sport at the 2006 Paralympic Games, but in six world championships there’s been just a silver and a bronze… and, in the last three worlds, two fourth-place finishes and a sixth-place ranking.

That all ended today as Vancouver’s own big Jim Armstrong and company – with one member of that 2006 team on the ice, Vernon’s Sonja Gaudet – took apart Sweden by a 9-2 count to win the 2009 World title.

Story here.

WCF photo by Al Harvey.

Tomorrow: Canada versus B.C. at the Scotties.

Ironic, according to one writer, that it was Marla Mallet who allowed Team Canada into the party (playoffs) to begin with, where “they’ve been trashing the joint ever since… already knocked over the kitchen table, spilled red wine on the carpet and made a heck of a mess behind the couch.”

To the winners: a trip to Korea, a return to the 2010 STOH in Sault Ste. Marie, another two years of Sport Canada funding, a berth in the Canada Cup, lots of CTRS points, more Kruger jewelry and bragging rights.

And all of it comes to you live, tomorrow night, for the first time on a prime time Sunday night… and for the first time on TSN.

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World Wheelchair curling playoffs

VANCOUVER – So your curling fandom revolves around the Scotties, does it?

Did you know there is a Canadian team battling in a world championship right now? And in relative obscurity? And in British Columbia, not far from the Victoria STOH?

The last time we saw Jim Armstrong he was teaching some poor patsy the three-man lift, a gimmick that has been carried on in fine fashion by famous lead players Jamie Korab (Team Brad Gushue), Ben Hebert (Team Kevin Martin) and others.

It was right around his days as president of the World Curling Players’ Association, and somewhat far removed from his playing career which saw him compete in six Briers, losing the 1987 final to Russ Howard.

So it is initially, admittedly, a bit shocking to see the big man wheeling round the brand new Vancouver Olympic/Paralympic Centre, wearing the Maple Leaf for the first time as skip for Team Canada at the 2009 World Wheelchair Curling Championship (WCF photo by Dallas Bittle, click to zoom).

But we get used to seeing this. Armstrong looks comfortable – enough – and patient in his chair. Only playing for two years, after first being invited to “hang out” with Team Canada at a training camp, Armstrong is now the skip of a national team that has been rebuilding ever since 2006 Paralympic champion skip Chris Daw left the scene.

We asked Jim if he’s ever tempted to just stand up, get out of that chair and walk over to the stone he wants to freeze to, or hit, or draw around.

“Yeah,” said Army.

“But that first step would be ugly.”

Was he initially nervous, playing for Canada for the first time in his career?

“Yeah I was, a little bit,” said Armstrong.

“I think anytime you’re in this setting, if you’re not getting the butterflies there’s something wrong.”

There are some colourful characters in wheelchair curling. German skip Jens Jaeger lets out occasional whoops and likes to take mock, exaggerated bows to his coaches and fans with every victory.

Jaeger hasn’t been in the worlds since 2005 – when he finished in 13th place – but he smoked everybody at the Worlds Qualifier in Prague, and he is pretty much smoking everybody here in Vancouver – he’s through to the Page 1/2 game Friday night, against Sweden. He’s certainly come a long way.

Canada plays another colourful team, the United States, in the Page 3/4 game, also Friday night at 8:00pm. They finished third, Canada fourth. They also won bronze last year. And they have a few wild childs on that team, let us tell you.

Then there’s China and Korea – two teams among five that finished just one game out of the playoffs – which are the loudest teams around. Both squads like to yell at the rocks, from release to finish, as if they want to just stand up, get out of those chairs and run over to the stones to sweep them. Chinese skip Haitao Wang has a particularly brutish, gutteral baritone… which you can hear from the players’ lounge.

These guys – and gals – can shoot, too. And they’re incredibly pleasant, funny and grounded, even compared to the majority of able-bodied curlers.

“There are no asses in this game,” says Armstrong.

“And I’m guessing its because they’ve all got a story about how they got here.”

You got that right, Army.

Here’s hoping that Vancouverites come out and support the wheelies, support Team Canada. There’s only a handful of draws left: Frday night (8:00pm), Saturday morning (9:00am) and the Gold and Bronze Medal games on Saturday at 2:30pm.

Admission is just five bucks.

So get down here. Here’s the event website.

For those outside Vancouver, you can follow the results here… and read a ton of draw summaries here… but best of all is some live blogging, focussing on Team Canada games, going on at the popular Wheelchair Curling Blog.

If you can get out of your chair – unlike these athletes – then come on down. Otherwise, get online and check it out.