18-hour trip worth it for German rink

TED WYMAN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 12:26 PM ET

Much of the foreign contingent at the 118th MCA Bonspiel came to Winnipeg with the purpose of fine-tuning in advance of the upcoming Winter Olympic Games.

Germany's Rainer Schoepp came for a different reason -- to get in on one of the world's biggest curling parties.

"It's a really long way ... 18 hours of travelling, but I think it's worth it," Schoepp said yesterday after his team played a minor event game at the Grain Exchange Curling Club.

'ALWAYS GREAT'

"This is my fourth time here, and it's always great with the atmosphere and the teams and the ice. It's totally different from Europe."

Schoepp, 47, and teammates Sebastian Jacoby, Christian Schaller and Vehbi Yanik from Garmisch-Partenkirchen, paid in excess of $1,500 Cdn apiece for this trip.

Schoepp, who won a German national championship in 1988 and finished second this year to Olympian Andy Kapp, has played the game around the world, but not anywhere else quite like Winnipeg.

"There's nowhere you can find such a good bonspiel with so many good teams," he said. "Every time you go out on the ice, it is a good game. The Canadian side of the game is totally different, and it's very nice to see it up close."

Among curling communities outside of Canada, Garmisch is one of the most famous.

It has hosted the worlds three times and just recently hosted the European championships in December.

It's also home to Rainer's sister Andrea Schoepp, a former world champion (1988) and Olympic gold medallist (demonstration sport in 1992) who is among the leaders in terms of all-time appearances and wins at the women's world championship.

Andrea will, in fact, represent Germany at the worlds in Grande Prairie, Alta., this year.

"We have three ice rinks in Garmisch. ... It's one of the biggest centres in Germany for curling," Schoepp said. "If you compare German curling to Canadian, there are only a few people curling there. The whole association has around 1,200 curlers."

That's about 500 fewer curlers than there are playing in the MCA Bonspiel.

Among the 1,700 curlers in the MCA are the members of Jack Grassie's Deer Lodge foursome, who beat Schoepp 8-3 yesterday and then were thrilled to receive gifts of pins and European championship patches from their international opponents.

As he visited with Grassie's team over a beer, Schoepp said it is that kind of camaraderie and good will that makes the game special.

Still, he has some concerns about the future of the sport. Curling has not taken off in Germany the way Schoepp expected after it became a medal event in the Olympics in 1998.

"After 2002 Olympics it was a little bit growing, but now it is starting to stop, so we are hoping with the next Olympics maybe there will be another group of new curlers," he said.

"There are not so many TV hours in Europe ... they only have the European and world championships televised."

That, he said, holds the key to any future success.

"First of all, I think there needs to be more TV, maybe radio, maybe more press."

"Then you need more ice. We only have six or seven rinks in all of Germany, and none of them are in the big cities."


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