Saturday, December 16, 2006

A new era in world curling

BASEL, Switzerland – Russia defeated Italy 9-4 to win the women’s 2006 Le Gruyère European Curling Championship, the first major curling title for the country that made its international curling debut in 1994 (WCF photo by Urs Räber).

Skip Ludmila Privivkova, the defending world junior champion, added the prestigious European title to her growing trophy case by scoring three points in the third end and stealing the sixth and seventh ends. Italy’s Diana Gaspari scored three in the second end but could only muster a single point the rest of the way.

Privivkova and teammates Olga Jarkova, Nkeirouka Ezekh, Ekaterina Galkina and Margarita Fomina went undefeated in the round-robin with a 9-0 record before losing to the Italians in the first “Page” playoff game 7-5. The Russians then defeated Switzerland’s Mirjam Ott 7-5 in the semi-final before today’s final.

“It’s so very great, so amazing,” said the 20-year-old Privivkova, who is a student in Moscow. “I’m so very happy for the team.”

“We hope to win more medals but it will be difficult. All the teams at the events are strong.”

Privivkova will lead her team into the 2007 Winter Universiade in Pinerolo, Italy the same venue where her team finished fifth at last February’s Olympic Winter Games. Then, the squad will travel to Aomori, Japan in March for the World Women’s Curling Championships.

Privivkova believes the European Championship gold medal will increase curling interest in Russia.

“It is more popular back home after the Olympics and now it will be even bigger. It was shown on TV and it is very popular.”

For Italy’s Gaspari, the 2007 Euro titleshoot was sweet redemption following a disaapointing performance at the Olympics.

“In Pinerolo we thought we had a stronger team. Here we had two new players and we didn’t know how the team would come together. To win six games and then a playoff to be in the final is great.”

Gaspari’s run to the final captured the attention of major newspapers and TV networks in Italy. On Sunday she will travel to Milan for a TV interview with Sky Sports.

“This medal will help Italian curling for sure,” Gaspari said. “After Pinerolo, Italy needs something to continue the curling wave. Hopefully this is it.”

Italy also qualified with Russia for the World Championships in Aomori, along with the remaining top six finishers in Basel: Switzerland, Scotland, Germany, Sweden, Denmark and the Czech Republic, which beat back a challenge from the women’s B-pool champion, Austria.

Finland earned the B-pool silver and England captured bronze.

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