Italy 'nice bonus' in Grassie quest

JIM BENDER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:30 AM ET

Most people jetting off to Italy would have spent their leadup time studying the romantic language and planning treks to the Tower of Pisa and such.

But Manitoba's Sean Grassie has been brushing up on the unique rules involved in the World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship that start in Cortina this Sunday.

As the Canadian four-person Mixed champ, Grassie earned the right to represent Canada at the second annual event and he chose to take third Allison Nimik with him.

"We're really excited for it," Grassie said before leaving Winnipeg yesterday. "We get to play in the world championship and going to Italy is a nice bonus."

Although Nimik has moved to Calgary, she has flown back to Winnipeg to practise with Grassie quite a bit. While Grassie still prefers the four-person Mixed, the new format has started to grow on him.

"It's a fun format to play," he said. "It's definitely more of a finesse game than regular curling. Every end starts the same way and there are more freezes and taps than there are in regular curling. And you don't get a chance to peel that much."

Each end starts with a centre guard and an opposing rock sitting in the back of the button. Teams throw five rocks each with the curler throwing first also throwing fifth. While Grassie has decided that Nimik will throw first and fifth, that strategy can be changed during the course of the eight-end game.

Curlers must either sweep their own rocks or get the skip to sweep with the thrower calling the line.

"You take the sweeping element out of it," Grassie assessed. "You can't really throw a draw to the sweepers but it will be a good workout."

While the game still has more doubters than converts in North America, the Europeans love it. In fact, Canada is believed to be the only country not to hold a dedicated national Mixed Doubles Championship and there will be 27 countries represented.

"I enjoy the game but I still prefer the four-person game," said Grassie, whose dad, Jack, will coach the tandem. "People find the format confusing and would need to play in some bonspiels to get used to it. It could really catch on at the curling clubs because the games only take an hour or an hour and a half to play.

"If it becomes an Olympic sport, it could become more popular. But I think it will take a little while to catch on."

There are very few well-known curlers at this year's championship. Russia's Olga Zharkova has skipped at the women's worlds and Austria's Karina Toth is known more for her participation in the wildly popular nude curling calendar than her curling prowess.

Switzerland is the defending champion while Canada finished fifth at the inaugural worlds.

"It should be a fun trip," Grassie said.

Both Grassie and Nimik will take an extra week to tour Italy and other parts of Europe separately with their families.

BITERS: With a new team, Grassie lost this year's Manitoba Mixed final to Dave Boehmer ... Michael Johnson will replace Andy Stewart at third for Grassie's men's team next season. Johnson will play both men's and junior.


Videos

Photos