February 28, 2012
Bronze curling whingers need to shut up
By GEORGE KARRYS, Special to QMI Agency
The peak of the curling season sees thousands of stones thrown, swept, cursed, praised and watched either in person or on television and the web. This also prompts an annual barrage of requisite whinging and complaining for which curlers and curling fans have become legendary.
Take Feb. 28, the most recent curling Super Sunday. The championship final of Canada’s Tournament of Hearts for women was a decent show and it served up an attractive result in so many ways. The home team, Alberta, was victorious over British Columbia’s Kelly Scott. The winning skip was Edmonton’s Heather Nedohin, who proved to be quite the showgirl with her waving, screaming, croaking and whooping, plus an admirable stable of facial expressions. Caught red-handed in mid-week on live television uttering a new kind of curse — “s---balls”, which she quickly changed to “sugarballs” during the subsequent uproar — the lady became a social media sensation.
We haven’t seen such a character since the days of two-time world champion skip Marilyn Bodogh-Darte. Minus the mile-high kilt, of course.
You want more? The Albertans started slowly before grinding their way into a well-oiled machine. Nedohin’s last trip to the big dance was back in 2000, whereupon she focused on supermom duties while husband Dave — and his famed Ferbey Four squad — won four men’s Brier titles, three world championships, numerous Slams and Cups and an inevitable key to the Hall of Fame. Hubby and wife have now swapped roles, pretty much, and Heather — who also won the STOH as a third in 1998 — has returned to the mountain; that 1998 squad, skipped by Cathy King (nee Borst), was the last Alberta women’s team to win it all.
The final scored well in the ratings game, attracting just over one million eyeballs to TSN. Good thing it was a compelling match, as that morning’s bronze medal game suffered the wrath of players, pundits and armchair critics and threatened, however briefly, to overshadow the grand finale.
Introduced last year, the bronze-medal game adds a seemingly unwelcome draw to the nine-day Hearts and Brier festivals. Critics point to any number of reasons why the match is pointless and should be canned: The athletes don’t care, it’s a cash grab for extra ticket revenue, and so on.
Some of the jawing makes sense. Manitoba’s Jennifer Jones sailed into the playoffs in first place but then lost back-to-back shockers to Scott (in the Page playoff 1 v 2 game) and then to Nedohin — on an extra-end double-measurement thriller — in the Page 3 vs 4 game, thus dropping her into the bronze matchup. The question is: Should two playoff losses still warrant a crack at a podium spot, and a medal? This is, after all, a sport that took 53 years to embrace the playoff concept; prior to the Labatt sponsorship era in 1980, Brier round-robin records were used to declare the eventual champion.
Sure doesn’t sound right, and that’s a problem with the Page playoff system (gee thanks, Softball). However, the level of bronze vitriol spewed by both curling stakeholders and Average Joes quickly grew rancid.
“For players, the bronze-medal game is like farting at a funeral ... doesn’t go over very well!” tweeted 2006 Olympic champion skip Brad Gushue, who won the first Brier bronze last year in London. Other commentators despaired at how winner Jones, in their opinion, disparaged the accomplishment even as her vanquished opponent, Quebec skip Marie-France Larouche, wiped away tears of regret.
My opinion is simple: The Olympic Games have a bronze medal curling game, as do the men’s and women’s world curling championships. If that’s the way it is, there, that’s they way it should be - here. And now for some context.
Many things have changed in the life of the Roaring Game. In the early ’90s, players including Russ Howard — now a TSN talkie — sued the Canadian Curling Association for restraint of trade, arguing that Brier teams should be permitted to wear their own team sponsor logo(s) on their Brier uniforms, as opposed to only the event sponsor graphics. The CCA fought the application and won, but then offered an olive branch to their grumbling athletes: A new pool of “cresting” funding for all the teams, an increased per diem per player (over the nine-day event) plus additional cash for the playoff teams. These efforts to placate the athletes have been welcomed, and the grand total of cash and cash values headed to the STOH and Brier champs — which includes a pot of $40,000 from the Olympic-based Own The Podium program — now totals some $254,000.
When compared to the enormous amount of TV impressions alone, today’s curling stars are still sadly overworked — and underpaid. But things are an awful lot better than they used to be, and if you’re going to play this game at the highest levels, you should see your commitment to excellence through to the very last stone ... particularly at the events that literally created the modern-day curling athlete.
You entered playdowns, you won your provincial championship, you qualified for the bronze-medal game — so you play in that game. And if necessary, consider eating a big piece of shut the heck up.
B.C. women’s skip Scott earned kudos for steering a listing ship into the playoffs. A nasty flu bug ravaged the field, affecting multiple teams, and the Kelowna crew both lost and regained various personnel throughout the week. One of the fallen, third Sasha Carter, had to re-hydrate in a local hospital and returned to the lineup to fire back-to-back shooting percentages of 94... Team Nedohin now heads up the road to Lethbridge, Alta., for the world women’s championship, Mar. 17-24. Opponents include Scottish whiz Eve Muirhead, Swiss banker Mirjam Ott, German warhorse Andrea Schoepp and Chinese threat Bingyu Wang ... The World Curling Federation has announced a partnership with YouTube for live streaming of the world junior championships, Mar. 3-11 from Sweden. For the broadcast schedule and YouTube page, click on: bit.ly/WJ2012TV ... The Brier hits Saskatoon on the same dates as the world juniors, with wall-to-wall coverage on TSN and one night game, Mar. 7, on TSN2. The opening draw is Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ... Just like the Thursday night round-robin finale at the women’s, the Brier’s Thursday night draw features Alberta (2010 champ Kevin Koe) up against Ontario (2007 champ Glenn Howard). Amazing how that supposedly random draw schedule calculator works.