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Friday, April 4, 2014

What the Olympics have done to Competitive Curling – Part Deux

What the heck is going on? Where is everyone going?

Somewhat shocking news in the curling world this week:  Johnny Mo, after finishing as bridesmaid at the Brier and at the Olympic Curling Trials has decided to hang up his curling shoes (for a season at least), in order to focus on his firefighting skills.  

This after Alison Kveviazuk (the 2nd on Rachel Homan’s team packed it up and moved to Sweden). And after it has become known that Carter Rycroft and Nolan Thiessen will take some time off from the game to focus on business, family or whatever.

No word on what Stoughton, Martin or Howard will be up to next year, with their teams having disappeared beneath them.

Why all the changes? Why all of the retirements?

A lot of change was to be expected in the season following the Olympic Trials. But this seems a bit crazy.

      Why are people quitting, or at least taking a sabbatical? Quick answer: because competitive curling has become insane. While only a few teams can make a living at curling alone, (and few even try), the competitive curling season has become such that no reasonable person with a job or a family can possibly keep up with it on an ongoing basis. Imagine you are a top notch Canadian curler. With a wife and kids... And a decent job. Here is the requirement of your curling commitment (in a non-Olympic Year):       
  • One week off for provincials
  • One week  off for Brier
  •  4 Grand Slams, travel on Wed = 12 days (or 2.5 weeks off)
  •  8-12 other spiels = 2 days off each = 10 days off
Total: 6-7 weeks of vacation required to curl

Then you need to practice. Pretty much every day you are not curling in a spiel, you should be throwing – let’s say 1 hour per day.
Then you need to be physically fit. You need to be at the gym at least a few times per week – likely more if you are front ender.

This does not leave a lot of time for family, actually working at your job, friends outside of curling.

Here is the rub: you can do all of this for 3-4 years, and still get nothing out of it, because someone has to finish in 2nd place (and 3rd, and 4th).

So we have created a curling season aimed at producing the best curlers to compete internationally, but have we also created a curling schedule that almost seems designed to burn out the best curlers? I guess the guys who are taking time off will likely come back to the game once they have recharged their batteries, but watching Koe this week at the worlds it almost seems like they are on automatic pilot. They look tired. They look drained. They look frustrated when things do not go their way – not sure they will win. I hope they do. These guys are insanely good, but when you look at how much they have curled, you have to wonder how much more can they take?
Was it an accident that the team that represented Canada at the Olympics was really the last team at the party...the last team to earn their spot at the Trials (and maybe the least burnt out?)

Questions for discussion (and I am not saying I know the answer):

Are we burning out our top curling teams?
Is this the best way to develop the game, and to develop curling in general?
Has competitive curling become inaccessible to all but a few "professional" curlers who make the choice to devote their lives to the game?

I am certain that team changes and people stepping back will always be part of curling, but this year in particular seems to highlight some of the flaws inherent in our way of thinking about how to manage competitive curling.
There will always be some players/teams that have the time/lifestyle/sponsorship to go all-in for some period of time, and I definitely think they deserve to reap the rewards from this sacrifice.

I can tell you that I have gone hard for a couple of years...and it is crazy. It is tough on the family, it is tough on the career - and I play a schedule that is roughly half as demanding as what the top teams will play. I can't imagine how I could keep my life going if I did decide to play a schedule comparable to the top 5-6 teams. 

I always used to love the fact that you would watch the Brier, and the players would all have a "profession" outside of the game. There were mailmen, firefighters, teachers, dentists, accountants, students. Are we moving towards an era where the only "professions" will be golf pro / professional curler?


  1. Very good article, but I think some of the numbers to calculate the time away is understated. It is more like 10 days off for a Brier, 3-4 days off for a tour event (get there thursday night and leave monday night at latest). Very tough to juggle especially if you don't live in a big hub. but beside all of that now we are getting these top teams using the Brier as a catapult to the Olympic trials and totally alienating any of the more traditional (grass root) teams from the game, leaving the only 6-8 teams standing. This will leave the depth of curling more shallow than a slow running creek in August. KEEP THE INTEGRITY OF THE BRIER AND ALL PROVINCIAL PLAYDOWNS to those who support it at the grass roots level. NO byes to the provincial finals and everyone should start from scratch every year. This will truly show the depth of Canadian curling and reward those who make it. Tee Man (BC)

  2. What other Olympic sport can you be lazy, not committed 100%, make sacrifices in life and career? Sprinters train and train and train and eat very strict diets and do things no other human would think of just to shave off 0.01 of a second to try to win the Olympics...and most will fail. This is the nature of the beast...we want curling to be an Olympic sport...it needs to be treated as such. Is it creating an elite group in curling, yes. Is that bad for the game, no. It is just bad for those of us that are lazy and don't want to do what the elite athletes are doing to be the very best.

    Sheesh....if it's not one thing, it's another.