TORONTO - What a difference a year makes.
Precisely 365 days ago, with the curling world still quivering with the excitement of Vancouver 2010, the men’s world championship kicked into gear in gorgeous Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.
The title sponsor of the event was Capital One, not Ford. And the stunning mountain surroundings were far more attractive than Regina, Sask., (no offence, gappers).
Team Canada was represented by Edmonton’s Kevin Koe foursome, and their emphatic victory capped off a dream season for Alberta curling teams. Kevin Martin, of course, had just won Olympic gold while Calgary’s Cheryl Bernard had grabbed the silver. Just a week after Cortina, the Olympians swept all there was to win at the Players’ Championships.
This year, Jeff Stoughton wears the red and white (and occasional black) and his wardrobe is capping a nightmare season for Alberta teams. Martin finished fourth at the Brier, Calgary’s Shannon Kleibrink missed the Scotties playoffs and Saskatchewan teams won the STOH and swept the juniors.
Off the ice, the Italian worlds capped off a five-month diplomatic mess. World Curling Federation president Les Harrison of Moncton, N.B., was finally run out of town in an election putsch that had germinated in December 2009 and placed VP Kate Caithness of Scotland in the big chair. During the Vancouver Olympics, merely the greatest platform the sport had ever been provided, the top two curling politicians were barely on speaking terms.
Of course, last April was a tough time for WCF; its coffers were almost empty and the bank was eagerly awaiting another multi-million-dollar injection from the International Olympic Committee. The quadrennial deposit came last June, and as such this has featured some new bells and whistles, such as increased webcast coverage of the world juniors.
There were no big decisions taken last year, either — in fact there was a full retreat from another eight-ends versus 10-ends debate.
Now, we hear that the WCF is finally getting serious about changing the Olympic qualifying system, in time for the 2018 Games.
The long-desired creation of a World Cup circuit offering Olympic qualifying points is a go. Sort of. Well, not really. Not as a circuit, anyway, but at least one big new competition is confirmed.
The 2018 host nation is in, of course, and world championship performances — the details to be announced — will account for another seven of the 10 team berths for each gender.
A new OQE (Olympic Qualifying Event) will declare the final two countries. All remaining WCF member nations will be eligible to compete at the new shootout scheduled for November 2017.
This will have a ripple effect through the status quo of world curling in that it will effectively end regional qualifying for worlds through the European and Pacific Championships. In addition, it will also end the free ride that Canada and the United States have been earning into each worlds; competitors will have to finish in the top seven or eight to guarantee their country a worlds berth the following year.
In extreme scenarios, there could be world championships featuring no Asian teams, or just a couple of European teams … and/or no Canada or USA. But despite the occasional and exciting singular upset, high-performance curling is rarely that extreme.
Blake MacDonald has confirmed his departure from Team Kevin Koe. The 2010 world champion third will take a hiatus from the sport… the new Team Gushue passed muster in Victoria, losing the semifinals of a tour event to Coldwater’s Glenn Howard. The Ontario champs then beat Calgary’s Brock Virtue in the final after Virtue had upset Martin in his semi. On the women’s side, Jennifer Jones defeated Bernard and then Kleibrink to grab the top prize purse.
George Karrys is: curlinguru.com