Jason GUNNLAUGSON was wearing a Russian flag for a photo on Wednesday, but he was also cloaked in stress as he and his teammates told the curling world of their plans to leave Canada and curl as Team Russia.
"I slept like a baby last night," said Gunnlaugson, who at times on Wednesday looked nervous and guarded as well as thrilled to be embarking on a new adventure.
"The night before, when we realized we had to tell this story because it was about to leak out, I didn't sleep very well," he admitted. "All I could think about was what I was going to say and how people were going to take it. But last night, when I got home after it all, I just fell into bed and crashed."
The 25-year-old Gunnlaugson, along with teammates Tyler Forrest and Justin Richter, is in the process of finalizing a four-year deal to curl under the Russian Federation banner as a fully funded Team Russia, with world championships and the Olympics as the end goal.
The Free Press broke the news early Wednesday, and shortly afterwards Gunnlaugson's cellphone blew up.
"It rang all day. We were adding it up at the end of the day. I think I did five hours of interviews with over 10 different media outlets," Gunnlaugson said. "It was wild and weird and exciting and fun. But definitely tiring."
Gunnlaugson and his teammates are native Manitobans and last year burst onto the Canadian curling scene by securing a berth at the Olympic Trials. Although that event didn't go well (they finished dead last), they gained some fame as an exciting young team with potential.
When the Russians hired Manitoba curling consultant Patti Wuthrich to develop an elite men's program, Gunnlaugson and his team were contacted to discuss emigrating to Russia to become the face of Russian men's curling.
The three Manitobans will team with a pair of Russians to form a fully funded curling crew and will begin the process of acquiring Russian citizenship immediately.
Athletes must be Russian citizens to compete for the country at world championship or Olympic events.
They must also reside in Russia for 60 days a year to retain Russian citizenship. They will also remain Canadian citizens.
"We were definitely a little concerned about the reaction of people, and while there was some negative reaction, for the most part it's been really positive," Gunnlaugson said.
"Me and my teammates are so thankful for the support and positive feedback we've received.
"We've gotten calls from family and friends, curlers from other countries and old friends from high school that we haven't seen in years. It's been mostly positive and that's made us feel real good."
As for waking up to see his picture in the Free Press with a Russian flag around his shoulders, he had only one regret.
"I wish I still had my hair," said Gunnlaugson, who recently shaved his head for charity. "Other than that, it's all good."