By Sam Corea
LAS VEGAS – Okay, I’ll admit it... this isn’t my first visit to Vegas. In fact, I am sort of a Vegas veteran. But this is definitely the first time I’ve seen the Roaring Game played in the desert.
A few years ago, sport folks in Nevada and California had an idea that curling may be a good fit for the land of casinos, showgirls and mega buffets. Even earlier than that, U.S. curling honchos were thinking the same thing.
After all, it had been a while – some 15 years-plus – since the first-ever Vegas curling venture (see our November 2012 print edition).
Anyway, both groups took a gamble and voila, here we have the 10th edition of the Continental Cup of Curling, contested in the 5,000-seat Orleans Arena.
The unique event features six teams from Canada and the U.S.A. (Team North America) competing against six World teams (from Scotland/GBR, Sweden, Norway and Japan) in various formats including traditional curling, mixed doubles, singles and both skins and mixed skins play.
Adding to the uniqueness of this particular event is that it is a partial preview of the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi next month; nine out of the 12 teams here will be going for Olympic gold.
Last year, event organizers were happy with the sale of 500 event passes. That figure has jumped to about 3,400, with about 80 per cent of tickets snapped up by Canadians.
The place is filled, the fans are rocking, and it’s wild stuff.
“Obviously, we’re delighted with ticket sales and delighted with the Canadian fans who have come down to the desert in the heart of a really bad winter,” said local organizing committee co-chair Anne Warner Cribbs. “I think it’s great for curling as a sport and it’s great for curling in the U.S.”
Cribbs, by the way, won a gold medal in swimming for Team U.S.A. at the 1960 Olympic Games.
My plan to come to Vegas for this event was formulated over the past year. Once we heard that curling was coming to Vegas, the talk at the Vancouver Curling Club (where I used to curl before moving to Toronto last fall) questioned how the sport would work as a showcase event in the ultimate showcase town of Sin City.
Well, we found out during Thursday night’s draw – I’m here with former Van teammates – that curling is working out just fine, thank you, and it’s doing so just a few blocks away from the glittering lights and marquees of the Vegas Strip.
Most of the fans are knowledgeable and applaud the great shots (from both teams), although I did hear someone in the stands behind me ask the ultimate novice question: “Why are they sweeping the ice?”
In the concourse there are some curling table-top activities. One thing I noticed about the merchandise – it’s selling fast!
As for the athletes, Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones said, “I think it’s great for curling to have it in such a big city like Las Vegas, and any exposure we can get is fantastic.”
Debbie McCormick of Rio, Wisconsin said “The crowds here are great and it’s great training for us heading into Sochi. It is just so much fun playing in this atmosphere.”
I’m looking forward to the rest of the weekend, which also includes something called the USOC (United States Olympic Committee) “Road to Sochi” event.
For more on how the news of this event exploded onto the curling scene last fall, check out this archived blog post from October 2013, which features a great photo montage of Niklas Edin plus the requisite Hangover film reference!
[Top photo by Chris Holloman, Katipo Creative]