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Canadian women no longer rule the curling world

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Scotland's Eve Muirhead throws a rock at the Fort Rouge Curling Club Sunday. Muirhead ranks fourth on the WCT money list, three spots ahead of the top Canadian.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Scotland's Eve Muirhead throws a rock at the Fort Rouge Curling Club Sunday. Muirhead ranks fourth on the WCT money list, three spots ahead of the top Canadian. Photo Store

Question -- What do the top six teams on the women's World Curling Tour money list right now all have in common?

Answer -- They're all from somewhere other than Canada.

Remember a few years ago how people used to talk about how the rest of the world was catching up to Canada in the quirky sport of curling this nation all but monopolized for the last 50 years?

Yeah well, the world not only caught up, but in the women's game at least, they may have actually taken the lead.

"I think the women for sure have caught up to Canada. I don't think there's any question at all anymore," veteran Winnipeg curler Cathy Overton-Clapham reflected during a break in play at the Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Women's Curling Classic at Fort Rouge Curling Club.

'Everyone's pretty even right now. The world is tough'

-- veteran Winnipeg curler Cathy Overton-Clapham

"Everyone's pretty even right now. The world is tough."

Consider:

--Three of the top 6 women's teams on the WCT money list coming into last weekend are from Switzerland -- Silvana Tirinzoni (1), Mirjam Ott (3) and Michelle Jaggi (4).

--The other three teams on that list are from China (Bingyu Wang, 2), Scotland (Eve Muirhead, 4) and the USA (Allison Pottinger, 6).

Indeed, it's not until you get to Saskatchewan's Stefanie Lawton in seventh spot you find a Canadian foursome in the money.

And it doesn't get much better for Canada if you zoom out -- 10 of the top 15 teams on the women's list are from somewhere other than Canada.

Now, it is true that there has always been more international parity in women's curling than there has been in men's curling. But even against that backdrop, the available evidence of late would suggest all the efforts to catch up to Canada that were made in Europe, the U.S. and Asia since curling became an official Olympic sport in 1998 are now paying dividends all at once.

And it's a perfect storm that's coming at a perfect time for the rest of the world, with the Winter Olympics looming in Sochi in just a few short months. Canadian women have not won Olympic gold in curling since Sandra Schmirler won the very first one in Nagano -- and it's looking more and more like maybe that's the new normal in women's curling.

Former TSN curling analyst Ray Turnbull, who was one of the original pioneers in helping to bring curling to Asia with the coaching clinics he ran in Japan in the 1970s and 1980s, says in our desire as a nation to grow the sport internationally, Canada may have unintentionally been a bit too generous for our own good.

Turnbull points, for instance, to an open-door policy in Canada that allows international teams like China's Bingyu Wang -- the 2009 world champion -- to essentially move to Canada every year, hire a Canadian coach (they have former Randy Ferbey lead Marcel Rocque with them this season) and play in our major tour events all season long, gaining invaluable experience.

"The biggest thing is exactly these kinds of events where these international teams get to come here, play on our ice conditions and get the kind of competition and conditions they never get at home," Turnbull said while taking in some of the action at Fort Rouge, where nine of the 32 teams entered were from either Europe or Asia.

"It's funny how it's turned out in a way. Everyone wanted the sport to grow and this was the only way it was going to happen. But yes, now the tables have turned a little bit on Canada, haven't they?"

Scotland's Eve Muirhead is the reigning world champion and one of those nine teams who was playing in Winnipeg over the weekend. She said her team will spend four weeks in one five-week period this fall in Canada, playing the world's best competition and getting ready for Sochi, where her team already has a berth.

Muirhead says the women's money list at the moment paints a pretty accurate portrait of the state of international women's curling right now.

"I think it really is a case of the rest of the world catching up with Canada," said Muirhead.

"There isn't such a huge gap between Canada and the rest of the world like there maybe once was. And that's a good thing, I think."

Muirhead would think that, of course. The question is what will the demanding fans of Curling Nation in Canada think?

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 28, 2013 C6

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