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Old Posted Jan 19, 2018, 9:51 PM
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Curling gaining Olympic steam as hockey takes backseat
Terry Jones Toronto Sun January 16, 2018

When curling made it into the five-ring circus at Nagano 1998, few ever imagined that two decades later the curlers could occupy the centre ring.

CAMROSE, Alta. — When curling made it into the five-ring circus at Nagano 1998, few ever imagined that two decades later the curlers could occupy the centre ring.

But there are 11 Olympic teams — 13 if you include the personnel involved in mixed doubles — that began competition here Tuesday in the $250,000 Canadian Open event of the Pinty’s Slam series who are definitely contemplating that possibility.

“Somewhere over half of NBC’s entire coverage package of the Olympics is going to be curling,” said Kevin Martin, who will be in Pyeongchang as a colour commentator. “It’s absolutely amazing.

“CBC told me that in Canada 45% of their overall hours of coverage of the entire Olympics will be curling. When CBC told me that, I thought, ‘Well, I wonder how much it is at NBC?’ So I was talking to Jim Carr, one of the producers, and he said it’s around 50%, maybe a hair over 50%. That’s quite the number.”

With no NHL hockey players on the property, it’s possible.

Figure skating lost much of its audience since the judging scandal at Torino 2006, and skiing doesn’t have the same status, either.

Curling is positioned to take a large leap forward to the future.

“These are going to be really exciting times for curling. The sport has grown so fast in so many countries anyway, what does this do?” said Martin, a five-time Canadian Open winner. “Where does it go next? This is really exciting.”

Camrose is the last stop prior to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Korea, where curling could end up as the spotlight sport.

The Olympic curlers arrived here for their dress rehearsal excited about the possibilities.

“It’s bad for the hockey fans, but for the curling, it’s good news,” said Vancouver 2010 Olympic silver medalist Thomas Ulsrud.

“What the TV people in Norway tell me is that they are going to show curling the most. They say they’re going to show three times more of the curling than the other sports,” he added.

“Usually, hockey is the biggest sport among the ice sports, but without the NHL players and with the hours curling will be on TV, this Olympics will give us a bigger opportunity to show what we can do as well,” said Niklas Edin of Sweden.

The two-time world champion will compete in the triple knockout format in Camrose with Kevin Koe of Canada, Ulsrud of Norway, Rui Lui of China, Peter de Cruz of Switzerland, John Shuster of the U.S. and Chang-Min Kim of host Korea.

“Curling is not as big in Switzerland like it is in Canada. But from this Olympics, we are told that it is the sport that is going to be shown the most in Switzerland,” said Silvana Tirinzoni, who along with Rachel Homan of Canada, Anna Hasselborg of Sweden, Nina Roth of the U.S. and EunJung Kim of host Korea.

“We will get a lot of attention that we are not used to. It’s great, but it also means the pressure. But that’s how it is. And it’s the Olympic games. That’s why you want to play in there so bad. People will recognize me more than they do right now.”

It’ll be the same for Roth.

“It’s awesome for the sport in the United States, especially,” she said. “Back when I first started curling, nobody in the U.S. knew what I was talking about. After being on NBC at the Olympics for a week and a half, hopefully a lot more people in the U.S. will know what we’re talking about.”

Edin expects many viewers in his country to tune in.

“For our team in Sweden, especially with the hockey, I think it will mean more visibility for sure,” he said. “I think curling will be way bigger on TV back home. I won’t say curling will be bigger than hockey now but with the NHL players not there I’d say almost as big.

“A lot of people now recognize our team. And I’m sure people recognize Anna’s team, too. I think a lot of Swedes will watch us play there.”
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