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Threepeat Curling in Vegas

Follow #SamInVegas this week, starting Thursday

By Sam Corea

In 2013, I began seeing TV ads showing scenes of curling action cut with the bright lights of Sin City and an announcer asking the question “Curling in Vegas?”  Well, here we are four years later with the third edition of the Continental Cup of Curling in Las Vegas.  And here I go again to take in the Vegas curling experience for the third time, and for your benefit, dear reader.

It seems Las Vegas has become a permanent stop on the international curling event calendar. And it’s Canadian travellers who are supporting curling in Vegas, despite the lower value of the loonie, as they look for any reason to escape the winter cold to enjoy some desert sun and curling.  I am one of those Canadians this year, as the usually mild West Coast winter weather has been anything but balmy with sub-zero temperatures and half a dozen snowfalls in Vancouver since December. So, sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-teens, coupled with watching Team North America battle with Team World will help chase away the January blues.

In 2014, the teams were scouting each other in Vegas as that edition of the Continental Cup was held just weeks before the Sochi Olympic Winter Games. Last year’s edition, in my view, suggested that the teams were more focused on friendly competition and fun.

This year, with the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games just 13 months away, organizers tell us the event is a chance for curling fans to get an advance look at many of the teams who will be chasing gold in South Korea (and we’ll have lots to say about that in future editions of The Curling News).

Of course, we’ve got some curlers who’ve been to many Continental Cups and the last two editions in Vegas. But there are many first-timers this year, so I’ll be looking to get their impressions of curling in the desert (along with Elvis and Marylin Monroe impersonators escorting them onto the ice) for my social media posts this week and weekend, which you can follow on two platforms: The Curling News Twitter feed and also on The Curling News Facebook page.

During last year’s Cup in Vegas, the former director of marketing for Tourism Nevada told me that Canadians love Nevada and they love curling, so hosting these events in the land of casinos, big buffets and showgirls is a natural fit. And the slogan adopted by those involved – Las Vegas Rocks – just seems to roll off the tip of the tongue.

Attendance for the 2016 Continental Cup topped 62,000 – the most people to ever watch a curling event in the United States.  Officials are gambling that the success of the 2014, 2016 and 2017 Cup events will result in even more bums in the seats in the spring of 2018, when the Orleans Arena hosts the Men’s World Curling Championship – soon after the PyeongChang Olympic Games.

I don’t think the novelty of being in an arena in Vegas filled with curling fans has worn off yet. In fact, as I tell folks I’m heading to Vegas for a curling competition, some still raise an eyebrow, but admit that it seems like something fun to do in January.

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Vegas 2014: An amazing curling sight

4,300 watch Mixed Doubles curling. In Vegas.

by Sam Corea

Amazing scenes – they’re curling in Las Vegas!

LAS VEGAS – Okay, I’ll admit it… this isn’t my first visit to Vegas. In fact, I am sort of a Vegas veteran. But this is definitely the first time I’ve seen the Roaring Game played in the desert.

A few years ago, sport folks in Nevada and California had an idea that curling may be a good fit for the land of casinos, showgirls and mega buffets. Even earlier than that, U.S. curling honchos were thinking the same thing.

After all, it had been a while – some 15 years-plus – since the first-ever Vegas curling venture (see our November 2012 print edition).

Anyway, both groups took a gamble and voila, here we have the 10th edition of the Continental Cup of Curling, contested in the 5,000-seat Orleans Arena.

The unique event features six teams from Canada and the U.S.A. (Team North America) competing against six World teams (from Scotland/GBR, Sweden, Norway and Japan) in various formats including traditional curling, mixed doubles, singles and both skins and mixed skins play.

Adding to the uniqueness of this particular event is that it is a partial preview of the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi next month; nine out of the 12 teams here will be going for Olympic gold.

‘Nuff said!

Last year, event organizers were happy with the sale of 500 event passes. That figure has jumped to about 3,400, with about 80 per cent of tickets snapped up by Canadians.

The place is filled, the fans are rocking, and it’s wild stuff.

“Obviously, we’re delighted with ticket sales and delighted with the Canadian fans who have come down to the desert in the heart of a really bad winter,” said local organizing committee co-chair Anne Warner Cribbs. “I think it’s great for curling as a sport and it’s great for curling in the U.S.”

Cribbs, by the way, won a gold medal in swimming for Team U.S.A. at the 1960 Olympic Games.

My plan to come to Vegas for this event was formulated over the past year. Once we heard that curling was coming to Vegas, the talk at the Vancouver Curling Club (where I used to curl before moving to Toronto last fall) questioned how the sport would work as a showcase event in the ultimate showcase town of Sin City.

Well, we found out during Thursday night’s draw – I’m here with former Van teammates – that curling is working out just fine, thank you, and it’s doing so just a few blocks away from the glittering lights and marquees of the Vegas Strip.

The 1960 Olympian hard at work

Most of the fans are knowledgeable and applaud the great shots (from both teams), although I did hear someone in the stands behind me ask the ultimate novice question: “Why are they sweeping the ice?”

In the concourse there are some curling table-top activities. One thing I noticed about the merchandise – it’s selling fast!

As for the athletes, Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones said, “I think it’s great for curling to have it in such a big city like Las Vegas, and any exposure we can get is fantastic.”

Debbie McCormick of Rio, Wisconsin said “The crowds here are great and it’s great training for us heading into Sochi. It is just so much fun playing in this atmosphere.”

I’m looking forward to the rest of the weekend, which also includes something called the USOC (United States Olympic Committee) “Road to Sochi” event.

For more on how the news of this event exploded onto the curling scene last fall, check out this archived blog post from October 2013, which features a great photo montage of Niklas Edin plus the requisite Hangover film reference!

[Top photo by Chris Holloman, Katipo Creative – click on images to increase viewing size]