Curling and the Olympics

The Winter Olympics in Sochi have come and gone. The momentum Canadian athletes achieved in Turin in 2006 and in Vancouver/Whistler four years ago has continued. Canadian athletes are returning home with twenty-five medals, including ten golds. Because so many of our victories were in team sports, Canadian athletes may well be taking home more medals per participant than any other country. Those of us who are observers to the wonderful efforts of our athletes can bask in the glory of their achievements.

What intrigues me about the Olympics is how competing on the world’s stage makes us aware of sports which are unfamiliar to many of us. I appreciate that ice hockey (is there any other kind?) is our national sport, but who knew that over 653,000 Canadians (in a 2011 count) engage in curling regularly? Fourth in popularity after golf, ice hockey and soccer, curling is the sport of choice of 2.2% of the entire Canadian population. Almost 50% of all Canadians who curl live in communities or rural areas with populations less than 100,000, and over 38% live in the prairie provinces. Those who regularly have to deal with the bone-chilling cold of Canadian winters such as we in Toronto experience rarely have found a way to embrace winter… take up curling. Not a bad idea.

I know nothing about curling, and only watch it during the Olympics. When I do, however, I am impressed by the technical prowess of the participants, the physicality of the game, the camaraderie of the teams, and the strategic planning. Who will ever forget the intensity of Jennifer Jones and her team from Winnipeg, or the athleticism of Brad Jacobs and his crew from Sault Ste. Marie?

Although both teams may be well-known in curling circles, they have not been household names in Canada. Until now. And they should be. They are amateurs who have regular jobs during the day, and who devote their lives to curling in their spare time. Most started curling as young children, hanging around curling rinks with their parents and other relatives. They have competed for years. They have been tested, over and over. Jennifer Jones’ team missed out on the Olympic trials for Turin in 2006 and for Vancouver in 2010. Now they have gone on to an unprecedented record of no defeats, and the gold medal, at Sochi. Brad Jacobs’ team came together only in 2012-2013, achieved immediate success, but were not qualified for a direct invitation to the Olympic trials last December. They had to prove themselves by winning the round-robin pre-trials in November before they could take part. Inspired by watching Kevin Martin’s team win the men’s gold medal in curling in Vancouver in 2010, the Jacobs team went on to beat the Martin team in the qualifying trials, and then win their own gold medal in Sochi. Given the depth of the field in Canada, and the passion for the sport which exists among the participants, is it any wonder that they are the best in the world?

The Canadian Olympic gold medal curling champions are: Jennifer Jones (skip), Dawn McEwen (lead), Jill Officer (second), Kaitlyn Lawes (third), Kirsten Wall (alternate); Brad Jacobs (skip), Ryan Harnden (lead), E.J. Harnden (second), Ryan Fry (third) and Caleb Flaxey (alternate). They are young, vibrant, and great role models for all of us. Congratulations to them, and to the Canadian curling community for nurturing their skills. A friend who does not curl, but who loves curling as a game, celebrated their victory at dinner last night. Hence this dessert, adapted from Canadian Living. Clearly, the Olympics resonates, and curling does, too.


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