Friday, November 26, 2010

The Russia Affair: the coach's thoughts

I had the chance to chat with Patti Wuthrich a few days ago to get a little more detail on the Jason Gunnlaugson episode. It will appear in a Globe column, likely early next week.

Wuthrich said the entire episode was a bit of a shocker as just days before, she’d been told to get the boys visas to make the trip back to Moscow so they could go through the citizenship process. She had to break the news to them and they were, in her words, “devastated.” Apparently the news came out of nowhere. She said they “spent a fair bit of time in the bar.” That’s easy to understand when you’ve essentially just lost your job. For Tyler Forrest and Justin Richter it’s especially tough since they left good jobs to embard on this journey.

Wuthrich added that one of the biggest problems in this entire Russian episode has been communication. She says it’s almost impossible to get answers to a lot of questions she sends over adding that she’s never officially received any missive saying the Manitoba boys were fired. She was simply told that there was no citizenship awaiting them and that she should prepare the Alexey Stukalsky and Alexnandr Kozyrev, the two native-born Russians, for the Europeans and to be in Switzerland on Dec. 1. When I talked to Wuthrich, she was getting ready to take to the ice for a practice session in Gimli (yes, the two Russians are still in Gimli where they'd set up shop in preparation for the season). She did say the Russians were aware of all the press here in Canada surrounding the incident.

I asked her about the possibility that the Russians weren’t blown away by the performance of the three hired guns in the national championships where they struggled somewhat in the round-robin before easing to the title with two playoff wins. She said she had no knowledge of that but added that clearly the boys weren’t at their best in that competition’s early going, saying that sometimes you play down to the level of the competition. And let's be honest here -- it's pretty hard to imagine there's any team in Russia that is as talented as the Gunnlaugson three.

All in all, she seemed to say the entire episode was frustrating and disappointing. It's really another black mark for Russian curling which always seems to be like a hose on full blast without anyone holding it. At the Olympics, the coaches of the women's team switched lineups as frequently as a kid in a Baskin-Robbins store changes his ice cream choice. It didn't seem to make much sense.

Neither does this latest move.

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