by Brian Chick
GSTAAD, Switzerland – The 2013 Swiss Championships are being held this week in this gorgeous ski resort town.
Six men’s and six ladies’ teams are competing in a double-round robin that feeds into a three-team playoff. They qualified for this by playing a 10 team round-robin – called the Swiss League – over the course of two weekends in January. You can certainly say one thing; this championship rewards consistency over a hot streak... unless your hot streak can last close to 20 games.
The town itself is beautiful, surrounded by mountains on all sides. Canadians could compare it to Banff or Whistler, but the artificial “villages” at the base of those mountains are just knock-offs of towns like Gstaad. Of all the chalets, hotels and restaurants, there are very few you can’t ski right up to. You could literally ski into the parking lot of the curling club, which is part of a sports complex including tennis courts, a players’ lounge, and an indoor pool.
It’s Wednesday and to any championship curler, that’s “Moving Day.” Based on how your day goes, it can either push you into the playoffs or make certain you get the weekend off. This event is no exception.
Of the six teams on the ladies’ side, five have legitimate hopes to end up in the top three. There is some serious depth in this field as well, considering that four of them are currently in the top 20 of the world rankings – including world champ Mirjam Ott and Silvana Tirinzoni, who is currently sixth on this years World Curling Tour money list. Michelle Jaeggi and Binia Feltcher have each won international events in Europe this year, and qualified in a few Canadian bonspiels as well. These teams have spent the week beating up on each other, and at this point, there is no clear frontrunner.
On the men’s side, however, there are two clear standouts. Sven Michel has been marching through this tournament and Peter De Cruz isn’t far behind. Bernhard Werthemann from Bern has third place locked down, and the battle at this point is for pride – and fourth place.
A few observations:
• There has been an abnormal amount of high-fiving, especially among the ladies. Before shots, after shots, between ends, after the games... it doesn’t end. No word of a lie, I saw a team give up a steal of three to lose the game, and break into team high-fives with all the intensity of a Brier winner. I was confused.
• The Gstaad curling facility is wonderful. There’s a great lounge with temporary stadium seating, a nice restaurant with a view of the mountains, and everything else you need for a great event. The ice has been wonderful; perhaps a hair slow by Grand Slam standards (shucks, only 24.5 seconds for draws) but with lots of late finish, so all the shots are possible.
• Over the course of the week the seats in the lounge have been pretty full, and the bleachers on the ice have been more occupied with each draw. They also have the ice surface mic’d and the sound is pumped into the lounge, which is a nice touch. It gives you a little more of that TV feel.
• The Swiss take their warm-ups seriously. All the teams, men or women, are out in the parking lot, running, kicking balls, playing catch (with an American football, oddly enough) and doing various forms of physical activity before each draw. As someone who has seen both high levels of competitive curling and the lowest form of beer-league club play, I can assure you that 99 per cent of Canadians don’t give anywhere near this much pre-game effort. Might be worth looking into..
Photos by Brian Chick [click on each image to increase viewing size]