AND just like that, the Russian experiment is over.
Jason Gunnlaugson, Justin Richter and Tyler Forrest were informed by Russian curling officials on the weekend that they have been fired from their jobs as the Russian national men’s curling team and will not represent that nation at the European Curling Championships in Switzerland, next month.
"Everyone’s really disappointed," Gunnlaugson said Sunday. "But I have to laugh. I can’t even say that now I’m going to go out and get my dream job. Because I just had my dream job.
"Maybe I will go the other way and become a working stiff. Who knows?"
The dismissal came just two weeks after the three Manitobans — along with two Russian-born curlers — won the "Russian Brier" to formally become the Russian national team at the European championships.
At that time, Gunnlaugson and company were informed that they would be fast-tracked for Russian citizenship and they were led to believe that approval would be forthcoming.
But the men were informed on Saturday that they would not be receiving citizenship and the deal was off.
While the Gunnlaugson team has played below expectations on the cashspiel circuit this fall, with just $3,700 in winnings, Gunnlaugson said he’d been led to believe that once his team had proven their mettle in the Russian playdowns that their jobs would be safe.
"We’d always known this citizenship issue could be a potential deal-breaker," Gunnlaugson said. "And we knew that if we couldn’t do certain things that we would be gone.
"But then we did what was expected of us and won in Russia. And now we’re gone? That’s obviously frustrating."
Gunnlaugson, Richter and Forrest made international headlines last spring when it was announced that they had been hired to curl as the Russian national men’s team as that nation looked to fast-track the development of a men’s curling program in advance of competing as host country at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
The team’s coach — Gimli’s Patti Wuthrich — said she’d been led to believe that the Russians were willing to make a three-year commitment to bring the team along slowly and she was stunned to learn Saturday that the experiment has been abandoned not even halfway through the first season.
Wuthrich said she’s still seeking formal notice from the Russians, but was informed on Saturday that no citizenships would be forthcoming and the services of the three Manitobans would no longer be required.
"I love these guys, I feel bad for these guys," Wuthrich said. "They were under a ton of pressure and I really do think they were very capable."
While the team did win the Russian playdowns, their performance on the cashspiel circuit has been well below what the Manitoba troika did last winter in playing their way to a berth in the Canadian Curling Trials.
But Gunnlaugson said he was informed when he was hired that the only results the Russians were interested in from his team were at the Russian nationals, the European championship and the world championship. "It was always clear to me that those three things were extremely important and nothing else mattered," Gunnlaugson said. "Throughout the whole process that was the mantra.
"I honestly don’t know what we’re going to do. It’s really not something we’ve had a chance to think about at this point."