Reaching the top of the podium, having a gold medal hang around your neck and being the first team to plant your lips against the new Ford World Men's Curling Championship trophy is the dream for 12 nations competing in Edmonton this week. Only 1 will be able to check off this dream though come next Sunday.
A second dream is in play as well for the nations on the ice, Olympic dreams! The aspirations of each team competing having the chance to finalize direct qualification for their national association to reach the 2018 Winter Olympics field in Pyeongchang, South Korea is in the back of the minds of many athletes on the ice. Only 7 nations will earn direct qualification though, with hosts South Korea occupying an automatic spot as hosts (for the complete breakdown on the qualification process check out the #TwineTime #FWMCC2017 preview blog HERE). For those who do not check off this dream, they will have a last chance qualifier event in December 2017 to continue chasing this dream.
But a world championship and secured Olympic spot are not the only dreams at play this week. For a few of the nations competing in "The Last Hurrah" at Northlands Coliseum, the push will be there for a strong result to help #growthesport back home. The #growthesport element has been a key topic of discussion within the #TwineTime blog for a few seasons now and the topic remains a key factor for many nations around the world.
If you are a nation such as Italy or the Netherlands or Russia, competing at the world championships is a perfect opportunity to gain coverage and attention towards the sport back home. Strong results at the event of course help, especially if you can make a playoff push, but the opportunity to compete at a world championship against the top nations in the world can also help propel the #growthesport movement back home.
Italy is a great example. The 2006 Winter Olympics were 11 years ago now. The excitement around the magical run by skip Joel Retornaz still lives large in the heart and minds of curling fans around the world but the wave of sport coverage sees a decline in the post-Olympic years.
And doing a good job indeed. The Italians, while barely considered a long shot at the start of the event, found themselves near the top of the pack after an opening weekend record of 2-1. The #TeamUpset flag seemed to be decorated with the Green, White and Red. Retornaz added, "We are feeling good. A 2-1 record to start is better than 0-3 of course. *laughing* We are happy with picking up 2 wins in our first 3 games. We are on the board which was our main goal here to start. We want to win some games and we don't want to stop now."
Having been in Northlands over the weekend, the Sea of Orange was once again strong within the hallowed coliseum walls....and no the Oilers were not the reason why this time, but they may have had a small impact. As van Dorp noticed, "(The crowd) is great! We get a lot of comments from people who have Dutch relatives or are Dutch people. A lot of people seem to like us and support us and that is amazing! Lots of orange out there...maybe also the Oilers colors so maybe people are just wearing their Oilers jerseys *laughing* But it is great to see the orange out there and to get the respect from the crowd. It is amazing!"
The Dutch squad are no strangers to international competitions though, having navigated themselves through the junior ranks, up the European tiered system and now onto the ice in Edmonton competing for a world title. The van Dorp team has grown and, as a result, the sport is starting to grow back home.
"(Curling) is growing. It is still not that big. It is getting more awareness across the whole country. Before curling was not really known and people were just asking what curling is. Now people actually do know and we get to actually explain more about what we have to do to get to the top level. It is a great step forward. Of course we would like to get more people to play as well, that would be great."
When asked his thoughts on how to get more people out on the ice in the Netherlands and continue to #growthesport back home, van Dorp recognized the importance of playing in world championship events like this and the impact of this experience. "We are playing and enjoying the experience. We are trying to grow as well and get as much exposure as possible and try to grow the sport that way. I think just by performing and getting the best performance out there as possible will help grow the exposure. Maybe we can get more people to follow in our footsteps, get more competition growing. I think that would be the best step. Maybe get some more clubs going and start people with playing at the fun level and then see them later on competitively," van Dorp commented.
Team van Dorp and the Edmonton crowds are not the only one's super excited about #TeamOranje competing on the ice this week. Dutch coach Shari Leibbrandt-Demmon also sang the praises of the young team. "They are very disciplined. They are very young guys but you wouldn't know that watching them out there on the ice. They work really well as a unit. We work a lot on teamwork and on the dynamics. They respect the game and they respect their opponents. They respect each other. I think that is a very high quality in such a young group of men. It is kind of special," commented Leibbrandt-Demmon. "They are a likeable team! It is their first time here and they are loving it. They are excited to be here and are loving the crowds. Nothing is really getting to them." Coach Leibbrandt-Demmon added the larger crowds are also something a bit new, and exciting, for the team, "This is also the first time playing in front of this amount of people. The most they ever played for before was maybe 500. They are taking it in and performing at this level. Great things to come for the rest of the week and the rest of the year!"
"Unfortunately it is not growing a whole lot yet. Fortunately because these guys are such a great representation and a great group of young men, it is starting to take off. They are starting to get some outstanding support behind them. The country is starting to understand and respect curling as an actual sport and that's a big change in the culture of curling in the Netherlands! Hopefully that will continue to grow. Lots of potential in the future. Unfortunately at this moment there are only 150 curlers in the Netherlands. This team has grown and there is another group of talent following after them and I am working with them. We are creating another generation and hopefully this will be a long-term. Hopefully it will not be a one-off that we are here! We are here to stay I think!"
But countries still adapting to the experience of competing on the world stage are not the only nations looking at more opportunities to help grow the sport. What about some of the more "successful" nations? Norway has now competed in 52 of the 59 previous world championships, including 4 gold medal victories and 18 podium finishes. All that success does not always equate to rock star sport status back home and growth is still on-going. Just ask 2017 world championship rookie skip Steffen Walstad.
"I think so (seeing growth in Norway). Part of it is there is now a qualification process in place to make it to world's. There never used to be, which led to a lot of teams just quitting after juniors because there has been a culture where if you cannot be the national team there is no point in playing, which is bad. People are just playing fun spiels and that's it. There is no middle-level. There is the fun spiel guys and the top level guys. But the last couple of years we have had some people make the nationals more of a status. We have four really good teams. There is us, Ulsrud, Sander's (Rolvag, Team Walstad alternate at #FWMCC2017) team and the junior team (Magnus Ramsfjell)."
What about that Olympic dream though? The #Roadto2018 is closing in on the final stop and, as mentioned, 7 nations will join our Olympic hosts by the end of the week. For the remaining nations, Olympic final qualification awaits. Either way, auto spot or final qualification, the Olympics are helping #growthesport across the globe.
As Coach Leibbrandt-Demmon commented when asked whether the Olympics helps the sport back home, "Absolutely! Being an Olympic sport definitely makes a difference and once you put yourself into the position where you have the capability and intention on achieving it, I have a very disciplined plan in place. If you have that, it eventually gets recognized and these guys are getting recognized for putting in the hours, the physical training, the mental training. They are still students, two of them are still in high school. Two are working full time. We don't have a lot of opportunity to have a lot of competition back home so we have to pay to go away. Unfortunately we do not have a lot of funding yet but hopefully that will come as well. If the association and Olympic committee gets behind us, what we gain here, whether somehow in the next few games we get to the playoffs which would be awesome but if we don't we have the Olympic trials and this will be an excellent platform to get us up to that."
For Walstad and company, the attention to the Olympic opportunity may come with a side summer project first. "We are focusing on this event right now. Our lead (Alexander Lindstrom) is Swedish. He has lived in Norway for 5 years now but he needs a citizenship to participate in the Olympics. So we might have to find him a wife in the summer I guess? *laughing* We will see how it goes," Walstad joked.
As for Retornaz, it is one slide, one rock, one end at a time while competing in Edmonton. Retornaz commented the Olympic process will be discussed only after the conclusion of the world championship, "That's how it works. One game at a time. One event at a time. At the end of the week we will see what the end result is and then we will sit down and see what's up next."
#StayTuned rock heads and stoners, the #TwineTime blog will be returning to Edmonton later this week to take in the end of the round robin and enjoy the playoff round. Follow along via twitter for some live tweeting, behind the media bench pics and perhaps a few surprises along the way. We may just add to the #TwineTime family over the weekend!!!
And side note, when talking with Walstad, we had a brief conversation about the blog and how #TwineTime has been supporting his team for a few years now and called them the perfect dark horse team to defeat Ulsrud this season. Walstad added the perfect response, "Yeah? Cool. That's awesome!" It's one of the reasons I love the sport of curling and blogging, having a top athlete compliment the blog and enjoy the work put into it. The athletes are very open and supportive of coverage towards the sport and the respect level is very mutual, something we may not always see in some other elite sports.