Thursday, January 30, 2014

Vernon Davis gives Arsenio a curling lesson

Thanks to the superb Terry Kolesar for sending this my way (via Twitter). On Arsenio (yes, he is back on the air), curling fanatic and San Francisco 49er Vernon Davis taught the talk show host how to curl.

It came with lots of the predictable non-curler remarks with references about janitors and sweeping, but overall, it's a fun piece that showcases Davis's commitment to the Olympic curling team. He'll once again be the honourary captain for the U.S. rock-tossers in Sochi.

Interesting to note that on his uniform this time around, he'll have his first initial as apparently in Vancouver, a lot of folks mistook him for speedskater Shani Davis.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

CCA starts begging for bucks

Oh the rich, rich irony here. Just as we learn that the Canadian Curling Association has cut off funding to its largest province (for reasons we still don't know), it's started a web site looking for donations from those altruistic curlers who want to give back to the game.

According to the site -- called For The Love Of Curling -- which will have its official launch on Feb. 1, you can donate money or stock, make a one-time donation or become a regular monthly donor, all to help out the Roaring Game. Here's some of what appears on the site:

Through this new fundraising program, curlers will have an opportunity to make a real difference to the sport they love. For the Love of Curling is all about attracting the financial support needed to strengthen the Canadian curling community at all levels – curlers helping curlers. 
“Wouldn’t it be amazing if kids across the country were begging their parents to sign them up for curling lessons, and grassroots clubs across the country were busy every night of the week?” says Rachael Wilson, the CCA’s Director of Fund Development. “How proud would you feel if international curlers were always in awe of Team Canada?” 
The reality is that kids are choosing to play video games and other winter sports, and curling clubs are closing. On the international scene, teams are hot on Canada’s heels to take over as the curling nation.

According to the site, the money will go to three areas: 1) getting kids to try curling; 2) curling club development; and 3) ensuring Canadians are the best in the world 4) Kicking Ontario curlers in the love spuds. (Which I kind of thought was what our dues are for, no?)

Now perhaps there are Canadians out there with a few extra bucks who might want to drop them into this program, but I'm guessing there won't be too many of them. One thing we know about curlers is that they are um, relatively um, cheap. Still, it never hurts to ask I guess. All it takes is one rich guy to leave some money to curling in his will.

However, the real reason I think this program won't be a huge success is that it was tried in Canadian golf just a few years ago and was a colossal flop. Golf Canada attempted to create a program where people could join a special program as "members" for which they received a few small benefits. There were two levels of price entry and the money went to help golf in Canada. They had ads with Mike Weir and Graham DeLaet promoting it but it just died a quick nasty death after one year. Most people these days want something for their dollars.

Now I would guess that there are more golfers out there with cash than curlers. And if the golfers said forget it, then I'm not betting on the curlers.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Eve Muirhead has some guns

OK, she might not quite be up to Harnden standards, but this story in a Scottish paper shows that Eve Muirhead has some pretty good guns on her.

I think in an arm-wrestling match with Jennifer Jones, I'd give Muirhead the nod.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Erika Brown can probably still whip Gretzky

Erika Brown has a pretty remarkable record when it comes to Olympic curling. She made her first appearance at the Games as a 15-year-old in 1988 in Calgary and is returning to the Olympics this year at 41. Of course she also played in Nagano in 1998.

In an interview with NBC Sports, the American skip reflected on her Olympic career and how the game has changed over that time period. And just for good measure, she was asked about her famous quote from back in '88 when she said she could beat Wayne Gretzky in curling. Also, at the 1988 Olympics, you had a quote where you said you could beat Wayne Gretzky in curling. What was that about? 
Brown: Oh, the Internet is a wonderful and horrible tool! 
I think I said that I was sure Wayne Gretzky could beat me at hockey – I mean, no kidding – but that I could beat him in curling.Nobody forgets anything anymore!
You can read the full interview here

Some hi-tech info on the roaring game

Ahead of the Olympics, the newspaper that used to pay me to write about curling has a neat series called The Science of the Slide, which examines the winter sports in the upcoming Games, breaking them down from a scientific standpoint.

There's a good video on curling which talks about the basics of how a rock curls and what sweeping does. It's not exactly news for regular curlers but it does show some interesting technology at use to help make determinations.

You can watch it below.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Forget those Norwegian curling pants, here's Sidorva's "uniform"

Once again, Olympic curlers are making waves with their clothing. Or perhaps, the lack thereof.

Russian curler Anna Sidorova has posed for some pretty racy photos, such as the one we have here where you might be forgiven for not realizing there's a curling rock in the photo.

We're not quite sure why this photo was taken. Of course it's being released ahead of the Sochi Olympics, perhaps to take attention away from the Russian's expected performance on the ice.

As far as photos go, this one is "saucy" (as the Daily Mail called it) but there have been far saucier ones, both in the Women of Curling calendar as well as in in other publications around the world.

This year, of course, the men got a chance to strip down and pose for the Men of Curling Calendar.

I'm still awaiting the call for the Men of the Media Bench Calendar.

Roof collapse at Drayton Valey

A Global News report has the story of the roof collapsing at the Drayton Valley Curling Club. At the moment, the cause of the roof caving in is not known, although it's suspected that heavy snow may be part of the problem. But at the very least, there were no injuries. 

There were about 20 people inside the facility at the time of the collapse. Luckily, no one was injured.“There was some practice happening and it had just wrapped up, so those people were leaving the building,” said Drayton Valley Mayor, Glenn McLean. “We were very fortunate.”

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Curling's real debut in Las Vegas was more than 20 years ago

While the mind-numbing Continental Cup plays out a few miles from The Strip, there have been reports of curling making its debut in Las Vegas.

That of course, is not even close to the truth. Curling not only has a regular footprint in Sin City -- there is a Las Vegas Curling Club, which was founded in 2010 -- but there was an event here more than 20 years ago. That took place in 1992 at the Aladdin Hotel. It wasn't a cashspiel or anything remotely competitive; instead it was a fun event that welcomed all comers. (The Aladdin, by the way, is now Planet Hollywood.)

The guy behind it was none other than Doug Maxwell, the publisher/entrepreneur who figured out that if you could combine curling, night life and some warm weather, you could probably attract curlers from all over.

And that it did. The event, dubbed the Desert Spiel, was sold out and ice was put into one of the ballrooms at the Aladdin Hotel. The conditions were -- reportedly -- passable considering the technology of the day and the bonspiel went off to great success. I remember Maxwell telling me that the reason it never continued was due to the massive logistical undertaking of getting all the gear to Vegas.

I won't go into my annual rant of the Continental Cup -- you can read past years' posts here and here for that -- (and give credit to organizers for making some changes to improve things such as the scoring) but it's nice to see curling in Vegas, even if it isn't for the first time.

By the way, if there was curling in Vegas before the Desert Spiel, please let me know.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Wall Street Journal in running for best curling headline ever

The Wall Street Journal doesn't usually cover curling but in the lead-up to the Olympics the paper had writer Brian Costa pen a piece on the roaring game. The focus of the article was how the fitness levels of curlers today has improved and whether it's that important to being good at the sport.

The headline was certainly eye-catching.

That quote machine John Shuster once again offered up a good gem based on his previous Olympic experiences. 

"The people playing look like athletes now," said American curler John Shuster, 31, who will be competing in his third Olympics. "In the Olympic Village, we used to stick out. Like, 'Oh, there's those curlers.'"

It's a good read and an intriguing topic. Do you think the best curlers are also the fittest curlers? 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

"I wouldn’t say I’m athletic at all," admits U.S. Olympic curler

It's that time again -- the time just before the Olympics when the U.S. mainstream media finds curling. And this story on massive Web site Mashable is sort of typical of what you find -- it profiles the U.S. men's curling team and while acknowledging the team members as Olympians, finds time to poke fun at the four players, pointing out the fact they're just regular guys who happen to not look like many of the other Olympians.

This quote from third Jeff Isaacson probably has the folks down at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs spitting their coffee out their noses.

I wouldn’t say I’m athletic at all," Isaacson insisted. "I’ve always had a love for food and, hence, always been a bit overweight." 

Still the article portrays an honest look at the guys who are all nice, hard-working and passionate about their sport. They're trying to raise a little money to offset their expenses by selling shirts, as this Tweet from skip John Shuster details:

You can click that link to see the shirts or you can just go here.

Friday, January 10, 2014

CCA being big meanies in suspension of the OCA

So in correspondence with the heads of both the CCA and the OCA, I was told that the recent ruling by the CCA board to deem the OCA "a member not in good standing" would have no affect on curlers. Which I think really translated to mean, you can still send your players to the national championships.

But there is a fall out that's affecting the club player and it comes in a snarky, mean-spirited way from the CCA.

First, all funding for things like the club development program have reportedly been shut off. At least two clubs have contacted me to tell me they aren't getting funds. That hurts the clubs but it also hurts the curlers who play their regular games there. They've been counting on that money and to stop it when the club is not at fault is ridiculous.

Second -- and this is the one where I think the CCA is being petty -- a club contacted me and said it has two members who are reaching a milestone: being members for 50 years! What a great achievement. So there's a special night planned for the two and a celebration. The club asked the CCA for a letter congratulating the two. What was the response?

Yes, we think that's great. What a wonderful achievement. Oh but because the OCA is "a member not in good standing" we're not going to provide a letter to you.

Really? You're not going to write a letter?

I can tell you that without any knowledge of what's going on here, the CCA is starting to look very, very bad.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

What's behind the CCA-OCA rift?

The Ontario Curling Association is under investigation by the Canadian Curling Association.

That much we know.

We are also aware that as such, the OCA has been suspended by the national body, after being voted as “a member not in good standing.”

But beyond that, no one is commenting on the why or the when or the how. In a sport where there are almost always loose lips and rumours usually fly, this one has been buttoned up quite tightly. 

We do know the basics of the what. In early January, it was revealed that the OCA had been handed sanctions by the CCA during a Nov. 14 board meeting. The group determined that for a reason it isn’t willing to share, the OCA and its member clubs would be prevented from receiving any benefits that trickle down from the top.

“I can confirm that the Canadian Curling Association (CCA) did pass a motion declaring that the Ontario Curling Association is a Member not in good standing with the CCA,” wrote Greg Stremlaw, the CCA’s chief executive officer in an email to the OCR. “This comes as a result of an ongoing investigation into recent conduct of the OCA, and is compliant with CCA By-Laws that were approved by the Member Associations. The investigation continues, and no further comment will be made until the completion of the investigation.”

The OCA was equally hush-hush about the current situation and wouldn’t reveal just what’s led to the situation.

“The OCA takes this serious and are working very hard to resolve this as quickly as we can,” said Ian McGillis, the association’s president. “It has no impact on our curlers and they will be able to attend all events. Other than that I will not comment at this time about this issue.

While elite players may not be affected, the sanction does indeed hurt the club curler as well as clubs. In fact, several Ontario clubs are in limbo as a direct result.

For example, funds for club development projects have been suspended. Bruce Orrell, president of the York Curling Club said that he was notified the money it received from the CCA’s development fund used to help expand the club has been frozen until further notice.

He was not given any reason for the suspension other than the OCA had been voted as “a member not in good standing.”

While no one is saying just what the alleged infraction is, there has been speculation with some suggesting it’s a financial issue. The CCA receives funding from the member associations based on number of curlers within each jurisdiction. In the past, it’s been suggested that clubs fudge the actual numbers to pay a lesser fee, meaning less money moving up the chain.

As well, in the CCA’s by-laws, one of the rules to being in good standing is: “Each Member Association shall pay an annual membership fee as determined from time to time at an annual General Meeting.”

But another source said that it has nothing to do with money and is about governance, that the manner in which the OCA is run is at the heart of the matter.

The by-laws also state that any association that is under investigation is also not in good standing, meaning that being investigated on any matter would trigger the same situation.

Rumour has it the OCA made some public allegations against the CCA, which didn’t sit well, causing a rift between the two bodies. There were allegedly also matters involving sponsors, which caused problems. 

As well, there have been rumours circulating about the outgoing executive director of the OCA, Doug Bakes. Reportedly, a group of stakeholders met with the OCA board this summer to raise issues concerning Bakes, who will step down from his job this June. It's possible this may also be part of the situation

At the end of it all, the CCA board decided to make the biggest provincial curling association a member not in good standing.

Just exactly what is that? According to Stremlaw it means the national body has the right to sanction any provincial member when it breaches the agreed-upon code.

“A member not in good standing is just that whereby rights, benefits and/or privileges can be removed by the national governing body,” wrote Stremlaw, “and a Member Association placed as a member not in good standing until such time as meeting the definition and requirements of good standing and in a manner to the satisfaction of the CCA Board of Governors.”

The action against the provincial body won’t affect any teams headed to a national championship. Nor will it hamper any provincial championships scheduled.

But the seriousness of the motion would seem to indicate this is more than just a small infraction. It’s the first time under the current guidelines that a provincial body has been deemed not in good standing. And it may be some time before the OCA gets back in the good books as the investigation rolls on.

For now the matter will remain behind the association doors and while that happens, Ontario curling clubs and curlers will suffer.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

OCA is put on Double Secret Probation by the CCA

Apparently the CCA has put the OCA on watch. 

The word is out that the Ontario association has done something naughty and is being punished by the other provincial associations as well as the national body. At a CCA board meeting in November, Ontario was made "a member not in good standing." The board didn't tell anyone about this motion it passed and right now, we believe there's an investigation underway.

What this exactly means is not clear but it will not affect Ontario curlers playing for national titles. But it could mean Ontario curlers won't have access to a lot of resources at the national level such as funding for club development. (UPDATE: York Curling Club in Newmarket, Ont., confirmed that the funding it receives from the CCA for Club Development has been suspended due to the situation) We're not really sure about much here.

And more importantly, we don't know why. Joe Pavia in the Ottawa Sun tried to get some idea of what's up but was shut down.

Not only did we not know, but no one is saying why or how the provincial body can be re-instated. The CEO of the CCA, Greg Stremlaw, wrote to the Sun, "This comes as a result of ongoing investigation into recent conduct of the OCA, and is compliant with CCA bylaws that were approved by the member associations. The investigation continues and no further comment will be made until the completion of the investigation." 
OCA president Ian McGillis and other member associations would not comment on the situation.
So just what could it be that the OCA has done? And is all this in any way tied to the fact that the OCA's executive director, Doug Bakes, just announced his retirement?

There are lots and lots of rumours flying about at the moment and until one side or the other comes clean with some information, you can be sure those will just grow in stature.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Soo will have to do for Middaugh

The playdowns for the Scotties are underway across the country and Sherry Middaugh and her rink, fresh off a runner-up finish at the Trials, are headed to Jacobs Country to try and get the consolation prize for the 2014 curling year, an Ontario berth in the Canadian women's final.

Mike Koreen of the Toronto Sun got to eat some delicious airport food while chatting with the effervescent Ontario skip who said her team won't be letting up.

"This was still one of the goals we had at the start of the year," the cheerful Middaugh 47, said before flying to Sault Ste. Marie for the Ontario Scotties, where 10 teams will vie for this province's national berth, beginning Monday. 
"Before the final (a loss to hometown favourite Jennifer Jones at the Roar of the Rings), we got some really good games in where we faced pressure situations on arena ice. The fact we put ourselves in the position to play pressure games is going to help us."
Middaugh and her rink will be in the field for what will be the final all-Ontario Scotties. Next year, Northern Ontario gets its own entry into the shootout while some poor weakling provinces get to sit on the sidelines, a victim of the new relegation.

You can follow the Ontario playdowns here.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Mike Hay on the GB hot seat as chef de mission in Sochi

Longtime curlers will recognize the name Mike Hay, part of the Scottish family that has been at the forefront of the sport for the better part of half a century. Of course Mike's father is Chuck, the first Scottish skip to win the world championship. 

Mike was the fifth wheel  player on David Smith's world championship rink in 1991 and has been hanging around curling for many years. He served as coach to Rhona Martin's gold medal team in 2002 and, partly as a result, received an MBE.

Now, Hay is going to head u the GB team at the Sochi Olympics as the Chef de Mission. And, as this story in The Scotsman points out, he'll be there to ensure the athletes are kept safe, no small mission this time around.

His job is to ensure that the athletes and those who support them want for nothing, least of all a secure and comfortable environment in which to produce their best, even if that has been cast into doubt by the recent suicide attacks, which killed 31 people in Volgograd, about 400 miles from Sochi. 
“Obviously it is a concern for us, but we’re pretty confident that the Russians will be making sure that the Olympic Games are as safe as possible,” says Hay. “We live in the real world – there is no 100 per cent guarantee – but we will be seeking assurances that absolutely everything is being done. And everything we have seen from the Russians to this point would give us a lot of confidence.”
Of course Hay's's brother, David, is the coach of Eve Muirhead's world championship rink that will be favoured to win gold in Sochi. No doubt the Games will be a big event for the brothers.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Scoffin doesn't get entry to his favourite bonspiel

Thomas Scoffin won't be playing in his favourite bonspiel this year, the one he hasn't missed for the past seven years.

That "bonspiel" happens to be the Canadian Junior where the 19-year-old curler has been a fixture. But as Norm Cowley reports in the Edmonton Journal, the kid was bounced from the Alberta Junior, losing to Calgary’s Carter Lautner in the Alberta junior men’s final at the Leduc Curling Club on Monday.

“I’m pretty devastated, to be honest,” Scoffin said afterwards. “I love being there, I love competing, I love the atmosphere.“We had a great team lined up to go all the way this year, so it’s pretty disappointing to not win the final,” he said about his Saville Centre crew of Dylan Gousseau, Jaques Bellamy and Andrew O’Dell.
I remember interviewing Scoffin as a 12-year-old in St. Catharines when he played his first Junior representing the Yukon. He was, obviously, a shy boy who looked as if he was barely big enough to push the rock down the ice. That made him the youngest skip in the history of the Junior, by the way.

Now the kid is all grown up and a fabulous curler, by all reports. Oh and he still has another year of junior eligibility remaining so he can go for an eighth Junior.