Jason Gunnlaugson is taking his curling dream to Russia.
In a Free Press exclusive, Gunnlaugson announced Wednesday morning that he and teammates Tyler Forrest and Justin Richter are in negotiations with the Russian Curling Federation to move to Moscow part-time and curl under the Russian umbrella.
Team Gunnlaugson will be sponsored by the Russian federation and be joined by a pair of Russian curlers to form a team that will attempt to be competitive at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
"Our goal is to be the best team in the world. This will give us a chance to curl full time and train full time and to get the international competition that is so hard to get," said the 25-year-old Gunnlaugson.
Last season the Gunnlaugson team, based in Beausejour, qualified for the Olympic Trials but struggled at the competition and finished eighth.
"Our goal is to compete and earn a spot for Sochi," said Gunnlaugson, who recently visited Moscow as a guest of the country’s minstry of sport and curling federation. "This is a chance to compete full time and to promote the sport in another country. It’s also a great cultural opportunity. The chance to learn another language and spend some time in a very interesting country."
Last season the Gunnlaugson team collected close to $20,000 in sponsorship monies from both public and private coffers.
"We lost money. We didn’t break even. This will be a funded operation. We will spend two months of the year living in Russia, and compete on the World Curling Tour playing two thirds of our events in Canada and one third in Europe," said Gunnlaugson, born in Winnipeg and raised in Charleswood.
Gunnlaugson expects some negative backlash for his decision to leave his native country and compete for another.
"I understand some people will think of this in a negative way," said Gunnlaugson, sporting a brush cut after shaving his infamous and floppy locks to raise money for the Sandra Schmirler Foundation. "We want to be the best team in the world. This is an opportunity to make that happen. We think we’re a solid team that is young and has lots of potential. This opportunity can help us get closer to that dream."
Gunnlaugson said negotiations with the Russian federation are almost complete. The Russians are hoping to have a better showing at the next Winter Olympics and approached Gunnlaugson’s coach Patti Wuthrich about recruiting members of the team.
Russia has never qualified a men’s team for the Olympics.
The Russians stipulated on three Canadians and two Russians in forming the team.
"We’re going to do a lot of travelling and competing and will need that five-man rotation. The offer was only for three of us. I’ve been curlng with Tyler and Justin forever. Braden (Zawada) joined us just last year and the offer wasn’t open for him. He understands this happens. He was great to curl with and is a wonderful guy and I wish we all could go."