World's curlers ready to rock

By GEORGE KARRYS, Special to QMI Agency

It’s finally here. Curling’s greatest showcase, on the sporting world’s biggest stage, hosted by Canada, the No.-1 curling nation.

And here is everything you need to know about the next two weeks of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic curling competition that could be crammed into some 550 words:

YOUNG GUNS: The pre-Games gold goes to Great Britain women’s skip Eve Muirhead, known as the Next Big Thing. At just 19, she’s the youngest curler in the field, she’s won the past three world junior championships (including last year’s title on this very same Olympic curling ice) and she’s utterly fearless. Muirhead is tall, telegenic and bleeds Scottish blue: She’s also a champion in golf and — wait for it — the bagpipes. In a word, wow.

WILEY VETERANS: Keep an eye on Swiss men’s skip Markus Eggler. He throws second stones — like Canada’s Russ Howard did four years ago in Turin — and was elevated to skip position at last year’s worlds in Moncton, to take the heat off Swiss last rocker Ralph Stoeckli. The energetic, passionate Eggler won the world title as a skip back in 1992, has Olympic bronze from Salt Lake in 2002 and first battled Canadian skip Kevin Martin at their debut international event back in 1986 — the world juniors.

CHINA SYNDROME: Wang Bingyu’s women’s team started curling around 2001 — as full-time, fully funded professional athletes — and became world champions last March. The men’s squad finished fourth at their first worlds just two years ago. This is what can happen when a world superpower decides it wants to win gold in an Olympic sport. But the Olympics are different. Will this new kind of pressure crack the veneer of the unflappable, technical perfection of China?

OLD EUROPE: Two of Europe’s biggest markets happen to provide world curling’s saddest story. France and Germany boast decades of membership in the World Curling Federation and virtually zero growth in grass-roots development. If not for the obsessive nature of their handful of curling-crazed athletes, things would be even worse. Good performances from these veteran teams might help, but their winter sport bosses need to take a long-overdue look in the mirror.

BOOB TUBE: No, we’re not talking about the new women’s curling calendar, which is back with seven athletes who are competing in Vancouver. No less than six Canadian networks will be broadcasting the Roaring Game in multiple languages: CTV, TSN, Sportsnet, RDS, APTN and the OMNI channels. There are also hundreds of hours on three NBC networks. Things kick off with a bang on Tuesday at noon ET on Sportsnet, as Canada battles Norway in a potential men’s podium tilt. Nachos and dip, anyone?

GAME OF THE WEEK: Feb. 20, 10 p.m. ET on Rogers Sportsnet. Canada against Great Britain. Kevin Martin vs David Murdoch. Enough said.

PARTY PALACE: While it’s almost criminal there is no formal place for people to whoop it up before, between and after games, the athletes and fans will certainly create a celebration out of nothing. The historic Vancouver Curling Club is sure to be the place to party.

POLL