December 13, 2011
Eve and The Pants win curling gold
By GEORGE KARRYS, Special to QMI Agency
TORONTO - Amid the non-sound from mostly empty seats — plus the occasional clonk of a cowbell — Moscow’s far-too-enormous Megasport Ice Palace played host to last week’s European curling championships.
The Euros are interesting, and for many reasons. Some 40 teams from 30 nations are there in one massive competition, and for some it’s the only real competition their national teams will get in an entire curling season. Empty seats, as happened in Russia, aren’t too much of a problem, as Eurosport provides saturation TV coverage to some 25 countries, thus keeping event sponsors very happy.
The Euros also have been doing the relegation thing for years now. The bottom two A-Group teams (both men and women) drop into the B-Group the following season, while the top two B-Group teams earn spots in the higher division. Moreover, there’s a best-of-three playoff for the B-Group gold winners to earn a shot directly into the upcoming world championships. Clever stuff.
On the ice, there were the usual suspects and surprises. Norway’s Thomas Ulsrud and his Crazy Pants brigade beat Sweden’s Niklas Edin for their second straight men’s A-Group gold, while Denmark’s Rasmus Stjerne took bronze over the surprising Czech Republic, skipped by Jiri Snitil.
The Czechs beat Scotland’s David Murdoch twice — they always beat him, it seems — and the Scots finished fifth, surely a maddening result for the three-time champion Murdoch.
Finland’s 2006 Olympic silver medal hero Markku “U-15” Uusipaavalniemi is back in the sport, but finished a lowly seventh in the B-Group.
Meanwhile, calendar girl Eve Muirhead won Scotland’s first Euro title since 1975 by steamrolling Sweden’s Margaretha Sigfridsson. The Swedes had steamrolled the entire field leading up the final, and despite their poor finale they finished with an enormous +49 plus/minus in scoring.
The Russians beat Denmark for an emotional bronze medal, while it was sad to see Norway’s women tumble into last place. Conversely, Hungary’s women’s team continues to improve, and just missed out on a worlds berth after a best-of-three battle with the Czechs.
However, the Euros also showcase the biggest meetings between and within the various suits who steer the European and World Curling Federations … and the whispers from Moscow are quite juicy.
First came word that the WCF was abandoning its plan to create a network of new tournaments and include them in the world championship qualifying scenario. Why would they call that off, one wonders?
The answer soon became obvious: Apparently, the WCF is making a move to take over the operation of the European championships itself from the ECF, as per their mandate of overseeing world — and Olympic — qualification.
The logistics wouldn’t be too difficult. WCF already handles the event’s TV rights and machinations — with the blessing of the ECF — plus WCF runs major championships on its own and also in partnership (on this turf) with the Canadian Curling Association.
Some of the ECF suits will be okay with this, as many of them also serve as WCF delegates. But for the few that still cling to dreams of their European fiefdom, they just might fight tooth and nail to preserve the status quo, or at least procrastinate — just as European politicians are doing amid the global economic crisis.
And we in Canada, the true engine of curling, get to watch the sideshow. More, please.
CCA chief Greg Stremlaw returned home from Moscow and ran smack into the fallout from last week’s Cowbell Controversy, of which yours truly (among others) pointed a finger at the CCA for banning the fan noisemaker at the Canada Cup.
Ace curling reporter Al Cameron of the Calgary Herald was the first to report on the specific incident, in which curling spectators were told to stop ringing those infernal gongs, or else.
Stremlaw quickly declared much ado about nothing, and assured QMI Agency that there is no new spectator code of conduct, nor was there any thought whatsoever of banning cowbells, vuvuzelas, pom-poms, painted faces or anything that adds fun to the good ol’ curling crowd.
Stremlaw reported that the incident in Cranbrook, B.C. involved local arena staff — and pointed out that the facilities the CCA partners with to host championships are very restrictive with regard to what is allowed to be brought into the building.
“In essence, we had an overzealous security official or officials who interpreted the noisemaking restrictions to literally be everything, including cowbells,” said Stremlaw. “But the CCA, in general, doesn’t have a problem with cowbells, and we haven’t banned them from our championships. This was inaccurately reported.
“The CCA has no desire to limit fan noise, cheering, celebrations of the sport of curling, or the creation of an energetic environment such as seen at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games,” added Stremlaw. “The simple fact is that the CCA strives very hard to ensure a positive experience for the majority of our fans.”
Duly noted, and passed forth forthwith. All we want, in the end, is More Cowbell, and now we shall have it …
The second of four Grand Slam of Curling events roars to life on Wednesday in Kingston and concludes on Sunday. The athletes apparently have signed their waivers and the five-rock version of the Free Guard Zone rule is in effect, which may or may not be noticeable when CBC begins its live coverage (3 p.m. ET Saturday on CBC, 7 p.m. ET Saturday on bold, and 1 p.m. ET Sunday on CBC).
Scotland’s Tom Brewster showed up on Monday to beat the jet lag but there will be no Pants present, as Euro champion Ulsrud decided not to compete in back-to-back events. However, Euro runner-up Edin has dragged his exhausted mates across the pond to battle the Canadians in Kingston, although we’re not sure if they briefly went home from Moscow or came directly to Canada. If those crazy Swedes make it to the playoffs, watch for bloodshot eyes on your HD screen.