February 12, 2006
Kleibrink's rink drinks with the competition
ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

TURIN, Italy -- Those who think drinking and curling don't necessarily go together at the Olympic level should guess again.

In an effort to better acquaint themselves with European curling and culture, Olympic preparations for Shannon Kleibrink's Calgary rink included a recent bonspiel in Switzerland, where they raised a glass with seven of the 10 teams they'll face here.

"One of the European traditions that was hard for us was sitting down and having a drink with the other team after the game," said second Glenys Bakker, a mother of two who is on maternity leave.

Added Okotoks resident Kleibrink: "They have tables in the lounge reserved with your sheet number on it -- we didn't know at first, so I think they thought we were being rude.

"They came over and told us and we joined them."

With seven games in two days, it's easy to see how the foursome had a hard time staying, um, focused.

And with every win, it cost them a few Euros.

"The tradition is the winners buy the losers a round," smiled lead Christine Keshen, 27, an Invermere product who lives in Calgary. "It's an awesome tradition because, if you lose, at least you get a free beer out of it."

That's not to say things got messy, as the foursome didn't have to remind one another they were there to get a feel for what the Olympics would be like.

While Kleibrink and Bakker partook in the revelry, Keshen, for one, is a fitness freak who says she'd would rather jog

10 km than pick up a pint.

"You may see me with a beer in my hand but it's followed by four waters," added third Amy Nixon, 28, who said the early January trip, which also took them to Italy to see the Olympic curling venue and lodgings, was truly an eye-opener.

After marching into Friday night's opening ceremony, the Calgary quartet moved from the Athletes' Village to Pinerolo,

30 km outside Turin.

Settling into their housing near the Pinerolo Palaghiaccio rink, they got a chance to test the ice for the first time yesterday, with pleasing results.

"It's great -- it's just what we were hoping for," said Kleibrink, who curls out of the Calgary Winter Club. "There's not much curl and, being from Alberta, that's what we like. When we travel east to play in Canada, the ice seems very bendy and we've had to get used to that."

Despite coming off a disappointing showing at the recent Canada Cup and being Olympic rookies with little international experience, the wide-eyed Canadian crew starts the tourney tomorrow as one of the favourites with Switzerland, Norway and a modified defending champion team from Great Britain.

Canada's Kelley Law finished third in Salt Lake City after Sandra Shmirler won gold in Nagano, Japan.