No U.S. ill will on ice
By PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun
Our two nations aren't exactly seeing eye-to-eye right now. Their anthem's been booed by Canadian hockey fans, their politicians dumped on by ours.
But members of Team U.S.A. at the World Curling Championships say they haven't received the brush-off from anybody since arriving in Winnipeg. If anything, it's been just the opposite.
"We heard about the hockey game in Montreal," Ann Swisshelm Silver of the U.S. women was saying yesterday. "And that's a little tough right now to hear about stuff like that. But curling fans, I would have been absolutely shocked. I would have been shocked had anyone done anything that wasn't good sportsmanlike conduct."
Sure enough, despite a word of warning from their coach, Wally Henry -- a transplanted Winnipegger who thought there might be a few catcalls at the Arena -- Swisshelm Silver and her teammates have been made to feel right at home, from the time they arrived for Friday's opening ceremonies to yesterday's first day of action.
The U.S. men's team tells a similar story.
"We didn't quite know what to expect," third Eric Fenson said. "But everybody's been wonderful."
That doesn't mean everything is warm and fuzzy in the hearts of our American guests.
There's something about throwing rocks up and down a sheet of painted ice while your fellow citizens are dropping bombs and dodging bullets in the desert that's a little difficult to compute.
I mean, make a mistake here and you could still pull off a win, the way the U.S. women did in a shaky 8-5 victory over Italy in their opener. Make a mistake in war, and somebody usually dies.
"It's really difficult for me to think about our servicemen and women in the Middle East," Swisshelm Silver said. It's just really a sad situation that this is where we're at in the world. We are lucky for every minute we spend here. We are blessed and lucky."
Not everybody's lucky enough to be here, of course. Fenson's wife's cousin is part of the U.S. force in Kuwait.
"That's about as close as it gets," he said.
But the games go on, which raises the question, particularly for Americans, how do you take sports seriously at a time like this?
"It's always in the back of your head," women's skip Debbie McCormick conceded. "We're just trying to say focused. Our hearts go out to those who are serving our country. But we're here to play."
Swisshelm Silver takes it one step further, saying not keeping your competitive edge would be like conceding defeat to those who would disrupt our way of life. She'd also see it as a disservice to her own country.
"There's nothing like representing your country and representing it well when you're at war," she said. "So I'm incredibly proud to be travelling the world as an American right now. I do this in support of my country, as a representative, just like our servicemen and women are representing us."
As for Canada's lack of support for the war, Swisshelm Silver has a pretty good take on that, too.
"I think you should take a look around you and know that you're allowed to protest," she said. "That's what it's about. I wouldn't want it any other way. Everybody lays down with their own mind at night. I think it's nice that you can believe one thing and your next door neighbour can believe another."
Swisshelm Silver says travelling abroad for a world championship would have been difficult. Coming here, it turns out, was like going to the friendly neighbour next door. The neighbour who might not always agree, but who understands.
"It doesn't feel like we're far from home," she said.