The team that took Italian curling to a new level
Twelve years after introducing the sport of curling to their compatriots at Turin 2006, Joel Retornaz and his Italy team returned to the Olympic stage at PyeongChang 2018. Though they failed to reach the final phase, they left Republic of Korea with yet more experience under their belts and hopes high of excelling at Beijing 2022.
Retornaz and his team-mates put Italian curling on the map at Turin 2006. Virtually unknown in the country, the sport took on a whole new profile when the little town of Pinerolo, on the Swiss border, hosted the Olympic competition that year. Having qualified automatically for the event as hosts, the Italians defied their largely amateur status with a string of memorable wins that did not go unnoticed by their fellow countrymen and women.
Retornaz skipped a team comprising Marco Mariani, Fabio Alvera, Gian Paolo Zandegiacomo and Antonio Menardi to victory over Germany, USA, New Zealand and, most impressively of all, eventual champions Canada. They finished a creditable seventh and in the process showcased curling to the whole of Italy, thanks to live, prime-time coverage of their matches.
After missing out on places at Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014, Italy came through the Olympic qualifying competition for PyeongChang 2018. Coached by the Swede Soren Gran and with Mariani by this time installed as the national director of curling, the Italian team was led once again by the pioneering Retornaz, with Amos Mosaner, Simone Gonin, Daniele Ferrazza and Andrea Pilzer completing the line-up.
Retornaz and his men fought out a series of tight matches in the round robin, claiming their biggest scalp with a 10-9 defeat of John Shuster’s USA team, who recovered from that setback to claim the gold. The Italians also beat Switzerland 7-4, but went down to Canada (3-5), Republic of Korea (6-8), Denmark (4-6), Japan (5-6), Great Britain (6-7) and Sweden (3-7) before ending on a high with a 6-4 victory over Norway.
Though they missed out on the medals, the Italians had the satisfaction of being there in person to watch compatriot Sofia Goggia win gold in the women’s downhill. Reflecting on their tournament, coach Gran said: “We made an excellent start and that will stay with me, as will the fact that we managed to keep pace with the top teams. I see it as the start of something very positive for the future.”
“We want to achieve more. We have something we can develop, and we’ll doing whatever it takes to make the next step happen” said Mariani. “A medal in four years’ time? Maybe. Maybe not. But we’re going to try. That’s our objective now.
“We don’t play curling for the money; we play for the excitement. I want to lead this team into another adventure, to another Games. They’re already thinking about what they can do, about what they have to do, to give Italian curling another opportunity. As far as I’m concerned, the future starts today. We definitely have the potential to be there in four years’ time and to make the play-offs and win gold too.”
Nine months after PyeongChang 2018, Italy made their 11th appearance at the European Championships in Tallinn (EST), where Retornaz led a team also featuring Mosaner and Gonin to country’s first bronze medal in 40 years, achieved thanks to an 8-6 defeat of Germany.