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2014 Getty Images
Date
22 Feb 2017
Tags
IOC News , Curling , PyeongChang 2018

World Curling Federation ready for new contenders on the rink

The growth of curling has been one of winter sports’ success stories over the past two decades. Back in 1998, when curling made its return to the Olympic Winter Games programme, the World Curling Federation [WCF] had 28 members; today that number has doubled and, at PyeongChang 2018, the sport has found the perfect venue to help extend its reach further.

Gangneung Curling Centre, which will be the stage for next year’s Olympic competition, has the advantage of being a well-known venue already – having held the 2009 World Women’s Curling Championship. “That meant we had good knowledge of the venue and what work was required ahead of the Games, such as installing LED lights, strengthening the roof for overhead cameras and upgrading the floor,” explains Kate Caithness, the WCF President. 

“All the refurbishments were completed in December 2016 and we’re now looking forward to hosting  test events. They will provide a perfect platform for event staff, officials and athletes to understand the layout and feel of the venue in plenty of time ahead of the Games.”

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Although that local knowledge is an advantage, the federation has a broader scope in mind. The sport of curling is taking off in Asia, so with the Republic  of Korea and – in 2022 – Beijing hosting the next two editions of the Games the opportunity exists to build on the outstanding progress that is already being made.

It is a chance to reinforce our efforts to bring curling to new levels in Asia. Kate Caithness, WCF President
“It is a chance to reinforce our efforts to bring curling to new levels in Asia,” Caithness says. “PyeongChang is the start of that journey and we have already signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Chinese Curling Association to work with them to grow the sport in the lead up to 2022.

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There will be a sense of novelty on the rink in PyeongChang, where a mixed doubles curling competition will take place at an Olympic Winter Games for the first time. Caithness hopes that the event can take its lead from one of the success stories of the last summer Games.

“Mixed doubles curling has shorter games and is a totally different discipline from traditional curling,” she says. “The Rio 2016 rugby sevens showed how well received abbreviated versions of well known sports are. The inclusion of this discipline also means for the first time curling will be played and broadcast every day of the Games, which will give our sport unprecedented exposure.” It also raises the prospect of some unfamiliar winners. “Mixed doubles has seen a number of our smaller or younger member associations making it onto the podium,” Caithness says. “Examples are two-time champions Hungary, 2014 bronze medallists Spain and 2010 silver medal winners New Zealand.”

Whoever next year’s winners are, the WCF hopes to strengthen its legacy. Caithness says that, after Sochi 2014, curling club membership numbers in Russia more than quadrupled – to the extent that the country is now the WCF’s fourth-biggest member association. There was a surge in interest globally too, and another thrilling competition in PyeongChang would do no harm to the prospect of a repeat.

“The Games are our opportunity to give the world an insight into how our sport has grown and developed, showing the athleticism and skill level that is improving year on year,” Caithness says.

“Anything can happen in curling, which can bring Olympic and Paralympic dreams much closer than many athletes would perhaps expect.” 

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