Curlers no longer Olympic rookies

GERRY MODDEJONGE , SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:52 AM ET

Curling is king in Edmonton this week, but in Vancouver 2010 it will just be part of the pack.

Not that there’s anything wrong with being on the Olympic stage for any athlete with a broom.

“The great part is it’s not just a curling event so you got to meet all the other athletes,” Mike Harris recalled of his experience when curling made its Olympic debut at Nagano 1998.

Harris skipped Team Canada to a silver medal where he sat out the final due to illness.

“With a week left to go in the games, curling was done and that’s when the Canadian Olympic Committee merged us with other athletes,” said teammate George Karrys. “And they kept switching us around so I got to room with Elvis Stojko out of nowhere as he finished competing, so that was pretty cool.”

But it wasn’t half as cool as Collin Mitchell’s time with the snowboarding team.

Snowboarding’s inaugural Olympic venture was marked by Ross Rebagliati infamously winning the sport’s first Olympic gold medal amid a sea of controversy over failing a test for marijuana.

“Collin didn’t inhale, not even once,” joked Joan McCusker, who was part of the legendary Sandra Schmirler rink’s epic gold-medal run at those Games. “The curlers and the snowboarders were the new sports to the Olympics in 1998, so the Olympic association in their wisdom flew us over in the same plane together and none of us inhaled.

“We had to get used to that snowboarding way of life and all.”

They also had to adjust to the global spotlight.

“They were sports and we were rookies but it took us a while to establish that we were real sports,” McCusker said. “I think we took a lot of ribbing and a lot of it came from ourselves about saying we’re curlers, not athletes.

“But I think that’s really changed a lot from ’98, where curlers are now looked at as fellow athletes and there are a lot of expectations for them to bring home a gold medal.”

No pressure, right?

As long as they remember to breathe – without inhaling.


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