Tuesday, March 11, 2008

WMD in Vierumaki

Looky here. Paul Webster, coach of Canada’s first-ever Mixed Doubles team – and a subject of a wild story in the current March issue called Top Secret: curling moves into high-tech world – is blogging from Vierumaki, Finland. The Curling News sure gets around.

by Paul Webster

VIERUMAKI, FINLAND – Well, we are here. And to those of you hearing about the Mixed Doubles worlds for the first time... you’re not alone.

Mixed Doubles was conceived by the powers at the World Curling Federation to be the next discipline in the Olympics – and that in itself is great news. Now the chances of that happening are arguable but it seems as though all the right parameters are in place with this new game.

Basically it’s two-on-two curling. Two rocks are placed at the beginning of each end – one a centre guard for the team throwing first, and the other a rock just touching the T-line, back button, for the team throwing second. Each team then throws five rocks. The curler throwing first also throws fifth, and the other player throws second, third and fourth. A player’s position can change in each end if a team so desires.

There are no specific sweepers – just a thrower and a person inside the hogline. You have to hold a brush when someone is throwing and then one or both players can rush to sweep the rock. We have decided as a team that the athlete in the house will go out and sweep.

Eight-end games. Some big scores and very few blank ends. Oh... and no hitting until the third rock of the end is thrown – even if rocks are in the house. So you can see why there are very few blank ends!

Our team consists of Susan O’Connor and Dean Ross (in photo above) – and me, the assigned coach for the team. They won the right to represent Canada as part of the Canadian Mixed team. Their squad decided to send their back end to represent Canada – a tough decision made no easier when both Dean and Susan were all-stars at their respective positions!

Dean is a very good player from Calgary who has been at provicials numerous times and unfortunately is from Alberta! Too many Randys and Kevins playing there or you would have definitely heard from Dean before now. He is the consumate teammate, and he may also be the biggest curling fan I know. I am extremely pleased that he has won this opportunity; no one deserves it more and absolutely no one would appreciate it more.

Susan is a extremely competitive player on the women’s tour. She currently plays third on Cheryl Bernard’s highly successful squad and is in preparations already as part of our National Team Program. Susan’s team have already qualified for the 2010 Pre-Trials qualifier – her preparation through that program has set her up very well for this, her first World Championship. Susan brings all the skills to the game and it is fun to watch her produce!

Along with us for this trip are four supporters: Susan Wright, Dean’s wife and lead from the Canadian Mixed team; Tim and Evette Krassman (Tim was the second on the Canadian Mixed Team); and Lucille O’Connor, Susan’s mom and our resident GPS expert. Some people have GPS built into their vehicles, but not us... we have Lucille. If you need to know where to go, she has the answer. It’s like the lady has been here before, but she swears she never would go to Europe... I think she’s pulling our legs and secretly she’s a writer for the Lonely Planet series of travel guides!

In conjunction with this championship is the World Senior Men’s and Senior Women’s Championships, where we are represented by Pat Ryan and Diane Foster respectively. Now if you have done the math, yes, this is an all-Alberta contingent... but who is counting?

The venues are beside each other in converted hockey rinks. I’m amazed at how good the ice was on the first day and while things have become a little squirrely thanks to high humidity – and tons of melting snow outside – it’s still pretty good.

Thanks to our friends at The Curling News for hosting these belated blogposts. Some funny things have been happening, such as the Foster team assuring us numerous times that they live in toom 1606 but in reality it is 6106... oh, and they swear they shouldn’t be in Seniors? Hmmm...

And now, on to the flu bug.

It always amazes me, the sicknesses that happen at an international athletic event. It is reasonable that a few people will get sick considering you are virtually creating an international petri dish of every countries’ best bugs.

I raise this issue as our male curler came down with some sort of bug – as in Italy – which we often refer to it as a explosive lower body injury (to the media, of course). Rumours from some of the other mixed and senior teams is that quite a few people are getting it. Always frustrating at a championship you have prepared for... and it always reminds us to prepare for the unexpected.

Dean and Susan played very well in our first three games and then we came up against Italy today; let’s just say it wasn’t our best outing. You could see that Dean was dragging a big and didn’t give us his usual Donovan Bailey impression as he raced out to sweep Susan’s rocks! Dean has been money all week with our first stone and this was his first game where it was shaky, and it was evident that the game was affected.

The Italian male shot very well making some key draws and runbacks, and the female also made a large number of her first shots. Lucky for us she was not as effective with her final rocks so we stayed in the game a bit. We did have a chance with our final stone to win and Dean just came a bit inside on a nose-hit triple which left them lying one.

This is a tough place to hang during a curling championship as there really is not a lot to do in between games. We are thankful for the two other Canadian teams as we can watch a few of their games as well. People at home have asked me what is like... and my best description is this:

Imagine yourself at a summer camp with a curling club in the middle of Stanley Park in Vancouver... and it’s winter/spring time... and they have fenced off the area so Vancouver is inaccessible... lots of beautiful trees, snow, cloud and... wet puddles! I would absolutely love to visit this place in the summertime; the grounds look amazing and the 18-hole golf course is no doubt something to see.

With 24 Mixed Doubles teams and four sheets of ice it is tough to concentrate games... we are used to one game days, and then a lot of time off.

We had some more Lethbridge people join us recently to cheer on the Senior teams! Their ice is a fair bit straighter then our 4.5-foot swing at our Mixed Doubles venue, right next door.

More later ...

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