Wednesday, February 08, 2006

1924 Olympic status confirmed

Two weeks after The Curling News revealed a Scottish newspaper's claim that they had exposed an 82-year-old Olympic sporting secret, the International Olympic Committee has fessed up.

It seems that curling’s official debut at the Olympic Winter Games occurred in 1924 (photo) not in 1998 as previously believed.

IOC Director of Communications Giselle Davies told The Curling News:

Curling was part of the official programme at the first Olympic Winter Games in 1924, and the IOC is pleased to have been able to confirm that. With competitions starting for Torino 2006 in just a few days’ time, we are looking forward to new additions to the history books.

The news has sent shock waves throughout the curling world. Instead of debut champions Patrick Huerlimann of Switzerland and Canada’s Sandra Schmirler, who both struck gold at Nagano in 1998, the first curling gold medallists hailed from Great Britain – and competed outdoors. Joining them in the record books is Sweden with 1924 curling silver, and France with bronze; the only three nations who competed in curling that year in Chamonix, France.

Canadian Curling Association CEO Dave Parkes brushed off suggestions that the medals his nation won in Nagano have now lost some of their lustre.

There’s no concerns of a tarnished legacy. We’re talking about different eras of the sport, and very different competitions.

Indeed. Willie Jackson’s 1924 team of Scotsmen beat Sweden 38-7 and then France 46-4 in outdoor matches lasting 18 ends (innings) to win the gold. As most are aware, curling in the modern era is contested over 10 ends of play, in pristine indoor conditions and with less outlandish scorelines.

There’s no loss of profile for Sandra’s team, or Mike Harris’ team (1998 silver) or our teams from Salt Lake (2002), said Parkes. It is what it is. History has been reviewed and adjusted.

The news was first reported by Glasgow’s The Herald on January 23. However, IOC archivists elected to examine 1924 documentation to verify the claim, leading to today’s confirmation.

Following 1924, curling became a demonstration sport in both 1928 and 1932, and was no longer considered an Olympic sport. According to the IOC, this occurred because there was no international federation to govern the sport. Demonstration events continued in both 1988 and 1992 until curling returned to the Olympic program in 1998.

It's amazing that history has been wrong for so many years. The World Curling Federation, based in Perth, Scotland, had no idea... and the the IOC has been somewhat complicit in the affair, announcing in 1998 that “snowboarding and curling debuted as official disciplines”. That and other references have now been updated on the IOC website.

A journalist spotted Great Britain’s gold listed on the IOC website’s 1924 medal table. That's right – a simple websearch proved what Olympic historians had misunderstood for decades.

That was the trigger, Herald writer Doug Gillon told The Curling News. I was aware that every medal table I had ever seen, relating to those Olympics, showed no Great Britain gold. Anyone who refers to it refers to a demonstration sport in 1924. And no medal table I’d ever seen showed this curling medal.

Great Britain has now won two curling golds, most recently by women’s skip Rhona Martin four years ago in Salt Lake City. Martin is back in Torino to defend her title and meets Denmark in her first game on Feb. 13 in Pinerolo.

Olympic bronze has created joy for French Curling Association president Alain Contat.

This is great news. An Olympic medal is always an incomparable event, and although this one is 82 years old the French curlers, I’m sure, will be very proud that France enters the history of our favourite sport. Vive le curling Fran├žais!

NBC's Olympic website has a pile of old 1924 action photos, located here.

• Some Pinerolo previews for you: The Toronto Star's Rosie DiManno; a cool piece focussing on the U.S. youth curling movement; an NBC site dedicated to America's youthful athletes and behind-the-scenes stuff; a look at the U.S. curlers' sponsorship issues; apparently the organizing commitee has lent out cheerleaders to some sports, but not curling; The Kiwis in an audio clip; an Austrian news org has a Brit, of all people, writing some pretty funny stuff; speaking of Brits, they do love their betting; there will be no nookie for Ewen, again, this time in Turin; and check out the wicked Panoramic views of Turin, Pinerolo and other Olympic sights on your computer here...

How big are the Olympic Games? When Canuck curlers are mentioned in Qatar, it seems pretty big...

In Kanader there's lots going on, mostly in men's provincial play: Alberta starts today, with an outstanding field that includes Kevin Park for the first time in many years; Manitoba is also underway today and Ontario started Monday. Meanwhile, the season-ending Grand Slam has been announced for Calgary...

• Finally, here's a sampling of the bonuses that countries will give to athletes who win an individual gold medal (U.S. dollars listed first):

ITALY: $157,385 (130,000 Euros)

CZECH REPUBLIC: $42,762 (1 million koruna)

JAPAN: $25,582 (3 million yen)

U.S.: $25,000

SWITZERLAND: $15,587 (20,000 Swiss francs)

AUSTRALIA: $7,512 (10,000 Australian dollars)

CANADA: None

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