Friday, January 27, 2006

Roster of champions

They are the champions, my friend...

Charley Thomas and his M&M Junior men from Grande Prairie. An amazing story. 4-4 in mid-week, the lead's father suddenly dies back home, his son decides to stay and compete and they win five in a row to win the title. The funeral is this Thursday. Should the Albertans laugh or cry? They'll do much of both this week.

Mandy Selzer and her gals from tiny Balgonie, Sask., which is about 25 kms east of Regina. It's the first time a Balgonie team has won a national title, let alone a provincial, and now they're off to Jeonju, Korea for the worlds. Can you say culture shock?

Janet Harvey of Winnipeg, off to the STOH in London. The top Manitoba money team this year after Jennifer Jones, who is of course already there as Team Canada. Not bad.

Andrea Kelly of New Brunswick. The 2005 national junior champ lost her provincial junior final and wasn't in TBay on the weekend. Instead she was winning the women's STOH berth into London. Wonder which event she preferred to play in?

Cathy King. Edmonton's curling queen is back again, and her squad is a major threat this year. Undefeated in the Alta provincial. That's kinda tough to do.

Kelly Scott, back in the Scott. The only surprise here is that she entered the event. It's really too easy to forget that if not for a poor lead stone – plus a bad call – early in the 10th end of the Trials final in Halifax, her squad might be waiting on Torino.

Heather Strong in Newfoundland. They played terribly at their hometown STOH last year, but travelled a bit this fall and had a solid Tour season. They'll do better in London.

Kerry Koe of The Territories. Same squad as last year, which means Canadian curling's best female vocalist will be on stage in the Heart Stop Lounge. What are we talking about? Just be there.

Chris Daw, skip of the Paralympic wheelchair curling team in Turin. The squad was announced last month but here's a look at the man charged with last brick.

• And finally... Colleen Jones (photo). Yes, she's back.
Amazing? Yes.
Surprising? Not really.
Does she gain more respect with this win? Yes.
Can she win the STOH?
Who the heck knows?


Blabbermouth calls it the "cheesiest ever", but we love it nontheless... a look at curling in KC, and outdoors in Bismark... BOA's U.S. Olympic sponsorship will be revisited after Turin, and the success (or not) of the Curl Girls could be pivotal... and this story may be the weirdest thing we've ever seen. And Blogfans know we are experts on the curling weird... er, world.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Juniors forge ahead at M&M nats

THUNDER BAY – A tragedy has reminded one and all here at the M&M Meat Shops Canadian Juniors exactly where sport should rank in one's life experience.

And it's an entirely personal belief. For very few can share the experience of the Alberta men's team, and in particular 19-year-old lead Kyle Reynolds.

Reynolds' father was killed by a car at a crosswalk Tuesday night back home in Grande Prairie, host of March's Ford World Women's Championship. On Wednesday, Reynolds' mother flew home but Kyle made the decision to stay and continue competing.

Since then, the Albertans have won four must-win games in a row and are now in tonight's semi-final versus Ontario (live on CurlTV).

Kyle's older brother Codey, himself an active player in the Peace region, has been meeting the team at the rink doors after each game, and engaging his brother in a huge hug. Kyle finished in a three-way tie atop the leaderboard in lead shooting percentage, firing 86, 56, 85 and 73 over that span of games.

Meanwhile, black ribbons have been subtedly appearing on player jackets over the last day or so. The story is here, and readers wishing to send messages of support can e-mail to: ... other team e-mail addresses are listed here.

• Canada's Olympic curling TV schedules are now confirmed – until they change, of course – for both TSN and CBC. The cable provider is very heavy on the sport, and the full sked can be found here. As for CBC, which has tons of round-robin highlights and packages and also the playoffs, the full sked will be published in the special February Olympic issue of The Curling News. If you don't subscribe, we invite you to do so promptly, so you can receive your copy in time for the first day of rock throwing on Feb. 13...

• Overall, CBC is providing over 1,000 hours of Olympic coverage across the sport spectrum, which kicks NBC's 416-hour butt... and doesn't even include French-language Radio-Canada coverage...

The Sports Network – no, not the Canadian all-sports cable channel but a U.S.-based online content provider – has updated its Torino 2006 Olympic curling profile and, it says here, has done so in prompt, professional fashion;

• Okay, we missed it: TCN didn't realize that Korea has an Olympic team already confirmed for both Turin0 2006 and Vancouver 2010...

• Finally, the Serbs are coming. Actually, they're already here. Welcome aboard.

Democracy in, um, action

Okay, first we have a federal election in Canada, and now this (photo). Here's the story on whatever that is about. Looks like a fun way to politick, however.

Some great shotmaking at the M&M Meat Shops Canadian Juniors, available on CurlTV and also on CBC this weekend. Also, live scoring can be seen here in realtime.

More curling profiles and previews, courtesy of the quadrennial Olympic Games: Sun Media's venerable George Gross gives a history lesson; the Chinese are obviously siding with the Scots' 1924 Olympic challenge, although they seem to call curling a "race"; a nice feature on the two U.S. teams, plus another on Team Gushue; and a fun on-ice story from America here.

In hard news, Team Ferbey's David Nedohin will be with his team at the Canada Cup after all; his father's surgery has been postponed and he can now make the trip west... Doug Riach won the MCA Bonspiel's Grand Aggregate title, and a provincial berth, last night... Edmonton's Cathy King is 2-0 at her provincial STOH but has joined the Swiss fashion trend, which you can check out here... and finally, Anne Merklinger is hanging up her broom, following April's climactic Players' Championship in Calgary. She had a great on-ice career, and if we can ever pry her out of the boat, perhaps she'll lend her talents to curling's boardroom in the future...?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Thunder Bay

This is the 56th Canadian Junior Championship (women started in 1971) but the first under the sponsorship of longtime curling supporter M&M Meat Shops. From the shock and surprise of the cancellation of the popular M&M Meat Shops Skins in December comes M&M’s repositioning within the national curling landscape. They're now part of the Canadian Curling Association’s Season of Champions, and they still maintains support of teams (the Middaughs, Sherry and Wayne) and of course clubs, coast to coast, at the franchise level.

There’s our old friend, and Olympic skip/second-in-waiting, Russ Howard. Russ blew into town Sunday night and is here with his wife Wendy cheering on daughter Ashley, who throws second stones for the identical-twin McGuire sisters representing New Brunswick.

CurlTV is here as well... broadcasting every single draw of this event up to and including the semi-finals, whereupon CBC takes over. Why oh why, dear reader, do you not subscribe to CurlTV?

We’re assuming Chinese is on the menu for dinner tonight. For those who have never curled or spectated in this isolated but warm Northern Ontario curling hotbed, both major city clubs – Port Arthur and Fort William, both co-hosting the Juniors – operate popular Chinese food kitchens. It’s a well-known TBay curling tradition... although it is possible to find a hamburger or sandwich among the fabulous Kung Pao Chicken.

Russ looks relaxed, and there’s no sign of TV cameras setting up for tomorrow’s Canadian Olympic flagbearer announcement. Russ might not have made the cut but he and his new Newfie friends have a chance to carry it in the closing ceremony, beginning Feb. 13...

• We’re still awaiting word from the IOC on the fate of Great Britain’s claim to official 1924 Olympic curling gold (and Swedish silver and French bronze). Exhuming ancient documentation obviously takes some time... and it’s not like the Olympic movement isn’t busy, opening the Torino 2006 Olympic Village just two days from now...

• CanRock music magazine Chart is all over the heavy-metal curling story; they’ve also tracked down two more rock n’ roll curling occasions, both of them domestic...

• Great to see a U.S. sports website profile the sport in advance of Torinto. Too bad to see it riddled with inaccuracies. Even worse to see the profile picked up by other media outlets including Washington...

• Still with America, here’s a look at curling in Maryland; and this gal in Mississippi is way too grumpy ...

• The Olympic features are starting to sprout: here’s one of two on defending Olympic women’s champ Rhona Martin; the other tells of her isolated training in a cell-phone-free area of Scotland...

• A whack of women’s provincials are underway this week, including Manitoba, where Kristy Jenion’s third Lisa Roy (see the December issue of TCN) is enjoying a homecoming after a tough ordeal...

• The U.S. national field is set, with the winners heading to the worlds in Grande Prairie (women) and Lowell, MA (men’s) respectively...

• This U.S. mag claims to know where to throw rocks down south;

• There’s been minor debate in Canada about TV hockey announcers using atypical slang in describing the action; now a player, Paul Kariya, has taken it to the extreme with a bizarro curling reference...

Alberta’s Kia Cup stands to be one humdinger of a tourney ;

• Finally, a report on Robin Welsh, the son of one of the Scottish curlers involved in the 1924 Olympic hullaballoo, who himself served the sport faithfully for decades until his passing last weekend at age 86...

Monday, January 23, 2006

Curling uproar over 1924 Games

Two posts in one day... that's what happens when 82 years of Olympic history suddenly gets turned on its ear.

The IOC is now investigating: will the Scottish story prove to be premature... or not?

The curling world is in an uproar over The Herald's claim to have exposed this 82-year-old Olympic sporting secret. As explained in the previous post, The Herald reports the International Olympic Committee has confirmed that gold medals won by Great Britain in curling at the first Olympic Winter Games (photo), held in Chamonix in 1924, are now genuine, and should no longer be considered demonstration medals.

However, an IOC official, who declined formal comment, told The Curling News that Olympic archivists have now been assigned to verify the facts, and will confirm the information tomorrow: We’re digging out the official 1924 program, the official said. It’s been 80 years, and we’re going to take another day to look at it.

The news, confirmed or not, has shocked the curling world. If the claim is verified, the gold won at the 1998 Games in Nagano by Canada’s Sandra Schmirler and Switzerland’s Patrick Huerlimann would no longer be the first official curling medals ever handed out in Olympic competition.

That year, the IOC stated: In 1998 the Winter Olympic Games returned to Japan after 26 years. Snowboarding and curling debuted as official disciplines...

More TCN quotes, this time from the CCA's Dave Parkes:

That’s very surprising. There’s nothing I’m aware of regarding the World Curling Federation investigating this. It’s highly unlikely the IOC would approve that, even if it wasn’t their initiative. Particularly without contacting the international governing body of the sport.

The Herald uncovered evidence for its claim about the 1924 Olympic champions – father and son Willie and Laurence Jackson, Robin Welsh and Tom Murray, all Scotsmen – while researching an annual report from the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, the world’s inaugural curling organization. Herald writer Doug Gillon then went to the IOC, and an initially positive reply led the Herald to claim Great Britain’s earliest Olympic winter gold medal, even preceding ice hockey in 1936.

We consider curling as an official sport in 1924, read the e-mail reply from Jocelin Sebastiani, a staff member at the IOC’s information management department. It was in demonstration in 1928, but for the International Week of Winter Sports, all the winners of the events are considered as Olympics champions.

In 1926 that “Week of Winter Sports” was re-designated the inaugural Olympic Winter Games, whereupon it was decided to create a separate distinct cycle for winter sports. Only summer games had been held previously, in which skating and ice hockey were included.

Welsh’s son, also named Robin, was aware of the Herald investigation into his father’s Olympic status but passed away on the weekend, aged 86. His son Peter was delighted to hear the news:

My grandfather’s Olympic medal is safe at my home in Yorkshire, he told the Herald. I had been looking forward to telling (my father) about the Olympic gold medal, but never had the chance.

The Royal Club and British Olympic Association were astonished but delighted at the revelation about the Olympic victory. BOA chief executive Simon Clegg told the Herald:

I am fascinated, and amazed that huge authorities on the Olympics have not picked up on this. I’m very grateful to The Herald. The history books will need to be re-written.

Just 16 nations and 258 competitors took part in the 1924 Games, with only three countries competing in curling. Scotland beat Sweden 38-7, and then France 46-4 in outdoor matches lasting 18 ends.

The Herald also reports that one of the Scots who marched in the opening ceremony, a Major D.P. Astley, ended up playing for the Swedes. They finished second after a playoff with France, meaning Astley won an Olympic silver medal. The French won bronze.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

IOC declares 1924 curling to be real gold

The curling world is in shock today with news originating from Lausanne, headquarters of the International Olympic Committee.

Great Britain has suddenly been awarded an Olympic gold medal in curling... 82 years after the fact (photo shows the GB squad in action).

After an investigation launched by the IOC following a media inquiry, it has been ruled that the Olympic curling event held in Chamonix in 1924 was not a demonstration event after all, and has now been declared the real deal. As such, Scotland's Robin Welsh, Willie and Laurence Jackson and Tom Murray will enter the record books as curling's first-ever Olympic gold medallists, a full 74 years before Switzerland's Patrick Hürlimann and Canada's Sandra Schmirler won gold in Nagano.

This is all news to me, said World Curling Federation secretary-general Mike Thomson in an interview with The Curling News.

I've not had time to check this out. However, if it means that curling in Chamonix in 1924 is now being recognized as an Official Winter Sport, we are delighted. It is just a pity it took another 74 years before it appeared as such again.

Obviously this is breaking news, and the ramifications are somewhat unknown, but we'll keep you posted as we uncover more info.

Elsewhere in our never-dull curling Blogsphere:

• PEI's Suzanne Gaudet is back in the Scott TOH, and so is Quebec's Eve Belisle;
• Turin-bound Olympians have descended on Winnipeg... and so has Darth Vader;
• Saskatoon's Stefanie Lawton is now off to provincials, but Sherry Anderson is out;
• The infamous Rudy was spotted over the weekend, as was this family battle and end result;
• A look at curling in Boise, Idaho;
• A feature on British Olympic men's skip David Murdoch;
• Is it or isn't it? A curling crisis, that is? You be the judge.

Finally, it's another federal election day in Canada, and the publisher of The Curling News – not necessarily other staff or contributors – endorses the Conservative Party of Canada.

Why? There's a myriad of reasons... and one media outlet listed a stunning 218 reasons not to vote Liberal!

First and foremost is the obvious: the governing Liberals are old and tired from 13 years of clumsy, corrupt and arrogant, absolute power. Secondly, the Tories simply offer the best platform, and unlike the Libs, actually spent more time promoting that than attacking their opponents... which is, of course, exactly what the Libs did. Third, a vote for anyone other than the Conservatives – except perhaps the Greens – is an obvious vote for fear and loathing. And there's nothing worse for a nation's psyche than its people casting their ballots on fear as opposed to the strength of their convictions.

And if you're grumping that politics has no place on the TCN Blog, how about this: the Grits have treated amateur sport and its clear correlation to the healthcare file with absolute disdain since 1993: with no official amateur sport ministry and a revolving door of inept or ineffective "secretaries". With Vancouver 2010 only four years away, that is reprehensible. Meanwhile, the Tories mentioned sport early in the campaign, offering tax breaks for families with kids who participate in organized sports, and have a potential sport minister-in-waiting. At least that's something.

Finally... Conservative leader Stephen Harper is a huge fan of hockey – he's been writing a book for a year and is a king of hockey trivia – and also Seinfeld, often quoting lines from the TV show with friends and staff. Not sure about you, but that doesn't sound scary at all. It sounds rather hip.

Oh, and in terms of a direct curling connection, see this photo. That's good enough for us.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Curlers rock out in heavy-metal video

There's more curling Blogtent following this top story, so be sure to scroll all the way down. But oh, what an amazing top story this is.

They are the defending world champions and the gold-medal favourites at next month’s Olympic Winter Games in Italy. And now they’ve grabbed electric guitars instead of brushes.

Anette Norberg’s powerhouse curling squad from Harnosand, Sweden gets top billing in a new rock video from Swedish heavy-metal act Hammerfall (both in photo), and it proves that curlers -- as well as metalheads -- certainly do rock.

Hammerfall guitarist Oscar Dronjak in a statement posted on the band’s website:

In preparation for the Olympic Games in February, we joined forces with one of Sweden’s brightest hopes for a gold medal. With heavy metal as a source of strength, the girls can now focus on bringing home the gold.

On ice, Team Norberg crushed the USA 10-4 to win the 2005 world championships in Scotland. On video, the team arrives for a game only to be confronted by their opponents: a wild-haired rock band with dubious curling skills. The two sides battle to a predictable finish -- with rocks, brooms and a full on-ice drum kit -- but not before the attractive athletes have morphed into leather and chain-clad musicians themselves.

Team Norberg in a prepared statement:

Our big adventure (Torino 2006) is getting closer and closer, and we are in great spirit! For us to succeed, our serious training has to give space to more relaxing elements. Such an element is this more unusual activity. For our team this has created loads of positive energy and is something that beats everything in team-building that we have ever experienced.

The song, Hearts On Fire from Hammerfall’s 2002 release Crimson Thunder, will be re-released as a single in Sweden only. Kudos also go to Acuvue, a sponsor of both Team Norberg and the Olympic Winter Games, who helped bring the squad and band together for the project.

According to an Olympic curler, this is at least the third time a music video has embraced the sliding sport. George Karrys won silver for Canada at the 1998 Nagano Games and is the publisher of The Curling News:

Sarah Harmer’s song ‘Silver Road’ was part of the soundtrack to the film Men With Brooms, and the front man for the Tragically Hip, Gord Downie, was on backing vocals. In the video, Downie was an ice technician working lonely hours at a curling club. And in 1998, another Canadian band called Gob went curling in their video for ‘You’re Too Cool.’ But this is the first time any curling team, much less Olympians, have done anything like this. It’s completely over the top and I think it’s great.

Nine years after their chaotic on-ice experience, pop-punksters Gob remain fond of the ancient sport known as The Roaring Game. Lead guitarist Theo Goutzinakis:

We are huge fans of the sport, we think it’s pretty fascinating. We spent $2,500 on that video. Aside from bruised knees, and broken brushes – and we lost a curling rock during the shoot – all went according to plan.
We were originally going to call that album Music To Curl To.

Norberg and teammates Eva Lund, Catharine Lindahl and Anna Bergstrom have won five consecutive European Championships and open their Olympic campaign Feb. 13 against Canada’s Shannon Kleibrink. Many pundits are predicting that matchup to be a preview of the eventual gold-medal final.

Hammerfall’s most recent album, Chapter V: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken was released in March 2005 via Nuclear Blast Records. According to the All Music Guide, the band “have become one of the toasts of the Eurometal scene.”

The video for Hearts On Fire is available for viewing, here in Windows Media Player and here in QuickTime. Other links: Team Norberg and Hammerfall.

Wow. That was exhausting.

On to the weekend, and here's your friendly Friday links roundup:

• there's a nice Stefanie Lawton feature here;
• 400,000 or almost 35 per cent of Turin's tickets are unsold;
• the Russians are pushing disabled (read: Paralympic) sports and just missed out on building a wheelchair curling squad from scratch;
• The M&M Meat Shops Canadian Juniors start tomorrow and will have draw-by-draw, wall-to-wall coverage on CurlTV, including tiebreakers and semi-finals (finals on CBC). That is a whole whack of curling, folks. Also, here's a look at Northern Ontario's junior women's team:
• Playdowns continue this weekend: in Alberta, John Morris will be putting on his pants at the SACA showdown, while the Northern field is wide open;
• Finally, CBC-TV's morning show came to Hamilton, Ontario – and a curling club – which brought the frenzy of Canada's federal election right onto the ice. However, fans seemed more interested in one particular TV host...

Flag flap: take a pill

Well, the hullaballoo over the Canadian Olympic flagbearer has now exploded, as it does with eye-rolling monotony every two years. We even have The Big Cat (leading the 2002 pack in photo) and Don Cherry taking swipes at each other. For the record, we pick The Cat to win. Easily.

As reported here yesterday, multiple Canadian Olympians are now declining to be considered for flagbearer honours. Ever think it might have nothing to do with Games prep and peak performance and everything to do with media hysteria? Perhaps the COC should just drop the whole thing and have our Italian ambassador do the honours. Or the RCMP constable assigned as head of Canadian team security. Or perhaps the owner of the San Carlo, we hear he has a cousin living in Canada. Twice removed.

Anyway, the Globe's Bob Weeks teamed up with amateur sport beatster James Christie for today's curling-oriented look at the controversy, and Russ Howard's increasing chances of grabbing the flag. There will be two alternates chosen as well, so he should be a slam dunk for one of those spots – surely? Meanwhile, Russ' daughter Ashley, who is headed off to Saturday's M&M Meat Shops Canadian Juniors in Thunder Bay, reports that her dad is an accomplished board-jumper. We did not make this up.

• Speaking of media hysteria, Winnipeg's MCA Bonspiel is underway this week and locals are bleating about the phenomenon known as the continually shrinking entry list. Actually, this year's whingeing isn't really whingeing at all; sounds like acceptance has hit that market. Incidentally, Toronto's almost-equally-impressive TCA Energizer city championship recently wrapped up, with the results available here.

David Nedohin will miss Team Ferbey's trip to Kamloops for the Strauss Canada Cup; his father is headed into hospital for cancer surgery that weekend. Former Trials skip / Kevin Martin teammate /alleged troublemaker Kevin Park will replace him, and throw skip rocks. The last time Ned was replaced – by Kerry Burtnyk in Switzerland back in October – the Ferbs won.

Be sure to check out tomorrow's Blog: you won't believe your eyes.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Russ for flagbearer? It could happen

Former CFL Grey Cup-winner Jan Carinci is part of the New Brunswick lobby group attempting to get Russ Howard the Olympic flagbearer gig. The Canadian Olympic Committee will announce the elected athlete – plus two alternates – on Jan. 26 during a live news conference from both Calgary and Montreal.

Howard was originally thought to have no chance. However, the Toronto Star is reporting that some prominent Canadian Olympians have withdrawn their names from consideration. Included is Beckie Scott, the 2002 Olympian in cross-country skiing who won bronze but was then upgraded to silver and then again to gold almost two years later, due to Russian doping violations.

Scott is also an avowed anti-doping crusader and was the betting man's choice for the flagbearer's job. Now, Russ has a real shot at the flag. Pinerolo's curling event starts on Feb. 13, just a couple of days after the opening ceremony, but that's plenty of time for a seasoned veteran to overcome the alleged pressures of the flagbearer's task, and gear up for competition.

Memo to Mr. Carinci: good move talking up Russ' legacy, but it may help to mention that Russ is one of only two curlers in history to compete in all four Canadian Olympic Trials qualifiers (including the 1991 Brier, which served as the Trials qualifier for Albertville 1992). The second athlete? His brother, Glenn Howard.

Naturally, it's more than just sport. As Jackie DeSouza, COC director of communications, told the Calgary Herald:

They must be a role model for Canadians. It must be someone who relates through their personal behaviour the Olympic ideals and values. Really, we look at body of experience both inside and outside of sport. This is someone that we can hold up as someone that exemplifies the Olympic values.

If CBC TV cameras suddenly show up in Thunder Bay on Jan. 25, we'll know that curling has its first Canadian Olympic flagbearer. You see, Russ will be in northern Ontario watching his daughter Ashley Howard (second from bottom of photo) compete at the M&M Meat Shops Canadian Juniors, which start Saturday (finals on CBC Jan. 28 and 29).

• CBC has released the massive list of broadcast talent – including 13 decorated Olympians – working the upcoming Torino 2006 Olympic Games, and as expected, the team of Don Wittman, Joan McCusker and Mike Harris will handle curling. This for both the CBC main network and also TSN, but schedule info is still to come.

• CBC's Olympic website is also humming along with fresh, updated content and a new look. Their equally-impressive curling page is located here. Not to be outdone is the COC site, which is far too light on curling content but does have an interactive curling game front and centre on the home page. And finally, in terms of websites, CurlTV has enhanced its alliance with the Canadian Curling Association, as this newser describes.

• Some Wednesday notes... the Winnipeg Sun's Jim Bender has torn a strip off the World Curling Tour; five curlers from Lindsay, Ontario are aiming for a curling trip to Japan, but only seniors seem to be invited; and there are two Merklingers competing in next week's Ontario Scott provincial, plus another as coach, but none of them are named Anne. And none are representing their hometown of Ottawa. Confused? So are we. Joe explains...

Sunday, January 15, 2006


Chicks With Sticks?

No, it's not the sequel to Men With Brooms, it's a Japanese curling movie called Simsons, which follows four girls in their attempt to qualify for Japan's 2002 Olympic curling team. Apparently, two of the actors are athletes and will compete for Japan next month in Turin. The movie isn't even out yet – it's scheduled for a Feb. 18 release – but the film's videoblog is raising quite a ruckus in Japan, crashing servers with over 50,000 daily page views. Here's the story.

Whoops... sorry about that, here's the story in English ;-) And another one here.

There's lots more happening on a vibrant Monday, so without further ado...

• The town of Chilliwack in British Columbia will host the fall return of curling's Ryder Cup, aka the Continental Cup, or so sayeth the local blat;

• There's a domestic hullaballoo brewing, with the source dishing two somewhat differing stories in the public forum. Both versions concern the funding problems of the Canadian Curling Association and focus specifically on a junket four CCA exes took to Germany during December's Olympic Trials. First, Ontario Curling Report editor Bob Weeks ran an editorial, which is posted here, with irate consumer feedback following and also posted here. Today, Weeks' Globe and Mail story is clearly more balanced – for starters, it's not an editorial – and includes quotes with CCA chief Dave Parkes. Naturally the curling public – still giddy over their unexpected victory in lobbying for the return of TSN coverage this season – shall be the judge, jury and executioners...

• British Olympic skip Rhona Martin is done talking about her personal problems and wants to focus on training; the story also points out that there has been no national Scottish curling sponsor either, since the Bank of Scotland shifted gears a year ago...

• Canada's Global National newscast did a weekend piece on the new school curling curriculum in Manitoba, which you can read about in the next issue of The Curling News;

• Two-time world champion Marilyn Bodogh is back in the Ontario provincial for the first time since 1999. This season also marks the two-decade anniversary seasons of both her wins, in 1986 and 1996 (a sign?). As a Sportsnet commentator she may have her detractors, but as a player she still gives good quote. One example:

I'm surprised I've lasted in the game this long. I shouldn't be playing. I should be getting kicked around by a lot of good young teams, but there's not enough of them. They're not as committed, not the way we were 20 years ago. We can't have just one Jenn Hanna. We need five Jenn Hannas, 10 Jenn Hannas, but somewhere across the bridge something's been missed in that transition from junior.

And Fort Frances (the provincial) is six hours by plane and car and that's ridiculous. Nothing against Fort Frances – I can't wait to get there – but you'd never see the men put someplace like that.

• Calgary's Shannon Kleibrink went 3-4 in Berne while Winnipeg's Jennifer Jones won the event. Jones actually eliminated Kleibrink in a C-side qualifier en route to the title...

• New Zealand's first-ever Olympic curling team won the Big Chief Bonspiel in Brantford, Ont. yesterday – second Dan Mustapic is a former Brantford and Thunder Bay Canuck – and they're off to Winnipeg this week for the legendary MCA Bonspiel. The squad left the Pacific between Christmas eve and Jan. 6, will train in Canada (mostly Calgary) and Japan before heading to Turin, and will not return home until March 2. Said third man Hans Frauenlob, the only Olympic curler to win two MLB World Series rings: Hopefully, we'll still have our families and jobs (when we return)...

• More fallout from Cassie Johnson's outdoor curling appearance in Central Park: officially here, unofficially here and also from this guy, who states that "Cassie's hot but I wouldn't want to date her"...

• And finally, a where are they now? story from the hockey world spotlights another curler with a victory ring in another sport, and the WCPA's Paul Boutilier is quoted nicely:

Curlers are great people with terrific personalities who simply need to become more well-known. It's now my job to get them the exposure and the opportunities they deserve. There isn't a better job in the world.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Piazza... and you?

From now to the Olympics, we'll be occasionally featuring some generic info and images of Torino 2006: check back often as you won't want to miss any of it.

We'll start with this AP image of the "new" Piazza San Carlo: this baroque square, known as the drawing room of Turin, used to be swamped with cars. It was closed for extensive renovations and reopened in the fall as a decidedly anti-vehicle, pedestrian-friendly public square. All in time for the Olympics, naturally. The Piazza is essentially Turin's food-and-drink mecca, offering many noshing choices including the famed 200-year-old Caffè San Carlo.

If you find your mind wandering to the possibilities of actually hopping on a plane and attending the Games, why not allow yourself such wandering (and wondering)? As reported in the November issue of The Curling News, being there is a truly unreal experience. Sure, it will cost you, but this is the time of year when airlines, travel agents and ticket brokers are looking at their stash of available inventory, and wondering how to move it.

CoSport is the official ticket agent of the Games, and they even have a Canadian office. Reports say that tickets are available for curling ($34 U.S.), biathalon ($42) and early-round women's hockey ($66) to name a few, plus there are "plenty of hotel rooms available."

• Actual curling news? Provincial playdowns continue across Canada this weekend: Northerns in Alberta, Challenge Rounds in Ontario, men's zones in Manitoba etc. There's also another journalist-tries-mysterious-sport-of-curling story here; the Shannon Kleibrink, Jennifer Jones and
Rhona Martin teams are all in Switzerland for Berne's International Damen-Cup women's event; and Wednesday's U.S. PR bonanza – outdoor curling in Central Park – got mentioned way off in Taiwan.

• Just a thought for curling fans to ponder: as frustrated as you may get with stories of bungling in our sport, remember there are many other other daft ideas and executions out there across the entire amateur sport spectrum. Example: downhill skiing. Apparently, this year it sucks to finish first in your final training run on the World Cup circuit, because that gets you the last starting gate on race day. Canada's Erik Guay posted the fastest time in a Swiss World Cup downhill training session yesterday, and didn't slow down at the finish line as so many skiiers have been doing this year. As such, he "inadvertently" earned himself the 30th and final start position for this weekend's race.

Skiiers actually slowing down as they approach the finish line. Think about that for a second. We rockheads may not know much about skiing, but when your top athletes are deliberately braking in their final training run before the big race, you've got some issues.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Central Park Curling

• Some great curling promo yesterday in New Yawk City, outdoors in Central Park (photo) with Team USA and one of their sponsors, Bank of America. We're betting the sight of that caused a double-take or three. We're also betting the sight of the story and two photos in today's New York Times is also causing rampant high-fiving in the offices of USA Curling.

• On a sad note, British Olympic skip Rhona Martin faces added distraction as she battles to reclaim her 2002 gold medal next month in Turin.

Scottish media (here and here) have reported that her year-long struggle for a spot on the team has claimed her marriage, as she has split from her husband Keith. In addition, fiscal woes have forced the sale of their house, with Martin and her two children (aged 10 and 13) now in rented housing and living on social assistance (DSS), along with some sport funding.

It's been the worst year of my life. We are living apart. Our marriage has irretrievably broken down because of financial problems. The DSS pays part of my rent. If it wasn't for funding from the Scottish Institute of Sport and SportScotland, I wouldn't be going to Turin.

Near the end of the Canadian Olympic Trials, word broke that the two Dons of Kevin Martin's Edmonton squad – Walchuk and Bartlett – also suffered marital breakdowns on the road to the rings... indeed, from years of unwavering committment to the sport. Said a teary-eyed Bartlett, the affable Newfoundland native:

It cost me my marriage. We'll see what happens. My wife is one of the nicest people I've ever met. She never gave me grief. I knew she didn't like it. I mean, nobody would like it when your husband is away almost half the year. You raise your kids by yourself. It's just too much time away.

• Still with the Olympics, NBC has released their TV schedule and it's enormous.

NBC and its sister cable channels – USA, MSNBC and CNBC – will televise a record 416 hours of coverage from Italy, an average of 24½ hours a day over the 17-day event. The previous record for a Winter Olympics was 375½ by NBC, CNBC and MSNBC from Salt Lake City four years ago.

Curling is a big winner: the cable outlets will show 26 curling matches, 15 of them live. In fact the only disappointment seems to be a) little curling on the main NBC network and b) no high-def: for the first time, the High Definition coverage will be the same as the regular coverage with the unfortunate exceptions of curling, luge and some skiing events.

But all this would be quibbling... no?

Rumours, incidentally, have the Canadian TV schedule released the week of January 23. Look for most of the round-robin games on TSN, playoffs on CBC, and CBC's on-air crew of Don, Joan and Mike to be front and centre. This is the third time it's happened but it's still a quadrennial shocker for most curling fans to see CBCers commentating on TSN.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Stoughton Slams 'em

One month after tasting Olympic disappointment, Winnipeg's uber-professional Team Jeff Stoughton (CurlingZone photo) won the second Grand Slam of the season, the BDO Classic Canadian Open, at their hometown MTS Centre last night.

In a repeat of the Olympic Trials semi-final, Stoughton beat Calgary's John Morris, this time on a nifty hit-and-squish on his last rock of the 11th end.

Edmonton's usual reps, Kevin Martin and Randy Ferbey, lost out in the semis. And yes, Morris was the one who dumped Ferb, for only his second win in about 15 career tries. Speaking of records, Stoughton is now 4-1 this season versus Morris, while the young cowtowners were 4-1 against Stoughtie last season.

Canada's Olympic team combo of Gushue/Howard etc. could not possibly focus on curling – although that's why they were in Winnipeg to begin with – due to endless media interviews and bureaucratic meetings, and lost out in a tiebreaker. On a third sheet of play during the semis, the Canadian Olympic women's reps skipped by Shannon Kleibrink walloped the U.S. Olympic women's Team Cassie Johnson 11-4 in an exhibition game.

With the $30,000 win, Stoughton vaults from 15th to third on the Tour money list, and also moves into the number one position on The Curling News Top 15.

• This is the time of year – actually, every four years – when curling scribes get to see their material appear under a "Road To X" Olympic banner. Naturally the "X" is Torino, or Turin for those without an ounce of Italian blood within. And what do these ink-stained wretches scribble about? Well, much of it concerns the ridiculous expectation Canada has for their curlers to strike gold and nothing but, versus the cautionary warnings from the athletes themselves that gold ain't nothing given. And so, without further ado, here we go again.

• The Strauss Herb Company has been helping curling fans attend major events in person this season. Having already provided a nifty Halifax Olympic Trials spectator package to an Alberta contest winner, yesterday they doled out a similar package to their very own Strauss Canada Cup in Kamloops, B.C., with the lucky winner hailing from west-end Toronto. The Cup runs Jan. 31-Feb. 5 with round-robin pool matches on CurlTV and the men's and women's finals live on CBC-TV... and it's also the last warm-up event for Canada's Olympic teams before they jet to Italy.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Slam, Small Fry and Wheelchairs

The second Grand Slam of the season is underway in Winnipeg; check out live results here throughout the weekend, and catch multiple draws live via your computer at CurlTV... including a Sunday afternoon exhibition game between two women's Olympic teams, Canada's Shannon Kleibrink and the USA's Cassie Johnson. Finally, don't forget Sunday's two-game TV coverage on Rogers Sportsnet.

Some are hoping to see young locals Team Ryan Fry (skip in photo) make it to the televised games: this squad, runner-up to Randy Dutiaume last year's Manitoba final, are full of fire and fun both on-ice and off. Alas, an 0-2 start puts that in doubt. A spring 2004 issue of The Curling News profiled the one they call "Small Fry"... and Jim Bender provides a more recent look here.

Big news in the runup to Italy... but not the Olympics, the Paralympics, held after the able-bodied Games March 12-18. Canada has announced their wheelchair curling squad and Canucks who sneer at Great Britain's controversial team selection method need to know that their manadrins have done exactly that for the Paralympic squad.

Led by veteran national team members Chris Daw (skip) and Karen Blachford (lead) of London, Ont., the squad now includes three British Columbians: Gerry Austgarden of Westbank, Gary Cormack of Surrey and Vernon’s Sonja Gaudet. Burlington, Ontario's Wendy Morgan is the Team Leader, and London's Trevor Kerr is the Equipment Manager.

The Curling News has been a proud supporter of wheelchair curling for years. TCN gives prominence to this sport which has been endorsed by both CCA and the World Curling Federation as a development priority, and directly partners with the Canadian Spinal Research Organization (and its American cousin) and their sport-specific Shoot For A Cure fundraising campaigns – curling, hockey and motor-sports.

And there is grass roots impact: did you know Shoot For A Cure can help you organize and run bonspiels at your club, by providing logistical knowledge and support, promotional materials and prizes? Oh yes. More on these opportunities next week, right here at the Blogosphere.

What else to do this weekend? Check your local markets for playdown information – chances are there's a men's or women's regional competition, or perhaps a junior provincial, going on somewhere near you, and spectating is usually free.

In closing, our first U.S. journalist-tries-curling story of the new year is running in Knight-Ridder markets; Paul Friesen has a good perspective piece on the Grand Slam beginnings and current legacy in today's Winnipeg Sun; and another Sun column points out that the current January issue of The Curling News – and veteran Peri Pub Doug Maxwell – was the first to reveal that Brad Gushue, fresh Olympian and hero of The Rock, once turned down an offer to move to Edmonton and join Team Kevin Martin. Yep, TCN scooped 'em again.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Gretzky, Schmetzky

Welcome back, one and all, to a brand new year, within the same 2005-06 Olympic curling season.

Monctonians – in an open challenge to Newfoundlanders for bragging rights to "their" Olympic hero Russ Howard – are beating the bushes to lobby for Russ to become Canada's flagbearer at next month's Torino Olympics. So what if the call first came from the CurlingZone chatrooms, now yesterday's edition of the local blat (subscription only) is trumpeting the New Brunswick efforts. To quote a local committee member:

Russ goes back three decades in the sport. If you look at (the Canadian Olympic Committee) criteria, Russ has got it all – fair play, responsibility, his continued athleticism, giving back to the sport.

As for the Wounded Moose himself?

I can't imagine, Russ said. How about Wayne Gretzky instead?

Gretzky, Schmetzky.

A good interview with John Morris, the disappointed third-place finisher at the Canadian Olympic Trials, in his hometown Ottawa Sun today. Some of his thoughts:

I find it difficult to watch women's curling. It's very defensive and reactive curling. However, during the Jennifer Jones-Jenn Hanna Scott final last year, I didn't leave my living room once. Two aggressive skips have set the tone for women's curling.

As for his Olympic prediction?

I wouldn't be surprised if (Brad) Gushue won gold, but I also wouldn't be surprised if he didn't make the playoffs.

The story also gives a hint to Johnny Mo's future in the sport, and where some of his off-ice interests lie... and not necessarily in Calgary...

Here's a new one: the second Grand Slam of the season, the BDO Classic Canadian Open, starts Thursday and the Tour's number one squad isn't there. Today's Winnipeg Sun seems to be the first outlet to break the news that Team Wayne Middaugh was threatened with suspension – presumably from the Ontario Curling Association – if his team went to the Peg and didn't compete in this weekend's regional playdowns for the Kia Cup.

Fact or fiction? If true, did the World Curling Players' Association stand up for their athletes? Or will it fall upon the fledgling Ontario Players' Council to step up?

Finally, amid constantly good news about U.S. curling growth following Salt Lake 2002 comes this brief report about the sport faltering in Florida. Come on you Yanks – and snowbirds! – time to rally for the cause.

A reminder that the January issue of The Curling News is now oot and aboot – see the Dec. 23 post below for more deets, and subscribe here – and there is still time for subbers to get in on 30% off the CBC's Canadian Curling Experience DVD. Simply check out page 3 of either the December or January issues, and head here with your access code.

And yes, we're still selling calendars... and promoting The Black Book... and this hotel reservations website which raises money for a curling club of your choice... the beat goes on for us at TCN.

More later!