Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/3/2010 (4039 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
SWIFT CURRENT, Sask. -- On a bald patch of southern Saskatchewan prairie Sunday afternoon, the country of Latvia, which faces Team Canada's Jennifer Jones today, won its first-ever World Women's Curling Championship game, defeating Team USA 7-6.
So it's official: The Latvians, with a proud population of 2.4 million, now have half as many international world championship victories -- men or women -- as they do curling sheets. Which is two.
Truth be known, those two curling sheets were opened only last October, and the facility was built almost exclusively with money from the Baltic nation's entire curling community, which numbers a couple hundred strong. Until late 2009, Latvians curling in the three major cities of Riga, Jelgava and Ventspils had to play and practise on hockey rinks -- first thing in the morning, no less.
"(Since 2001) we played curling in extreme conditions (as ice hockey is very popular in Latvia). We played at 5:45-7:45 in the morning on Tuesdays," Karlis Smilga, president of the Latvian Curling Association, explained via email Sunday from Riga. "Three years ago, we moved to Riga and played 7:00-9:00 twice a week and only six months we could play when we want."
And to think such a glorious day in Latvian sports began at the Swift Current iPplex arena with a botched rendition of the Latvian national anthem prior to the afternoon draw. In fact, the only muffled sounds that emanated from the loudspeakers were the first few bars of Sweet Home Alabama.
Who knew Lynyrd Skynyrd was Latvian?
No problem, giggled the winners. "It can happen," shrugged Latvia's second, Ieva Krusta.
But it's not every day Latvia wins at curling, much less upsetting a veteran skip like Team USA's Ericka Brown, a two-time worlds silver medallist and two-time Olympian, who came into Sunday's match undefeated (2-0). The Latvians had yet to win, with two narrow losses to Japan and Germany.
"We believed that we could play better," Krusta said. "We made less mistakes than in the beginning, in the first half of the game."
Until Swift Current, no Latvian team had qualified for a men's, women's or juniors world championship. Until Swift Current, the women, who qualified for the worlds out of the B pool, had never faced top official international competition.
To put that into perspective, there was another sellout crowd of 2,400 at the Iplex again Sunday. Today's game between Latvia and Canada (2:30 p.m., TSN) will be broadcast on national television. Prior to this event, the Latvian foursome's idea of curling "spectators" was relatively smaller. As in, only relatives watched. Maybe.
"In Latvia, there are several curlers watching several teams, maybe 20, 30," Krusta said.
Hence a bit of the jitters travelling halfway across the world to a Canadian curling hotbed, where these games are to Canadians what the super-heavyweight division of weightlifting is to Latvians. Seriously, they go crazy for the barbells. "We were a little worried about this, that so many people were cheering for different teams," skip Ivana Stasia-Sarsune said. However, Krusta added, "It hasn't been such a problem. We are on our game, on our sheet, and just in the moment. It's very loud, so you have to find a way how to communicate."
The Latvians had no difficulty communicating after clinching their historic victory, however.
"We were bouncing about, we all were," said Latvian coach Brian Gray, a Scotsman. "When they won the world qualifier (against Finland). for me it was the most amazing moment I've had in my curling career. But this is one step more. It's just awesome."
Although perhaps not front-page news back in Latvia, Gray said the victory won't go unnoticed, either.
"It's not ice hockey, but it's certainly an achievement for the country to go to the worlds, to make a point," he said. "And, theoretically, next time around start winning points for the Olympics.
"I'm sure there are people realizing there's something going on here," Gray added, "that this is a sport the Latvians are actually good at, and hope now it attracts a few more people to that new (curling) rink."
First things first, however, as someone asked Grey how he was going to calm down his elated foursome. "That," he said, "is a good question."
Perhaps facing Jones, who was 2-0 before last night's draw, will come as a reality check. Who knows?
Regardless, there's nothing like the first time, and for curling Latvians, it was on March 21, 2010, in Swift Current.
What does this mean for Latvian curling? "It means," replied Stasia-Sarsune, "that we can do... "
The skip seemed searching for the right word in English. "Something," she said, finally.
Sweet Home Alabama, indeed.
Randy Turner spent much of his journalistic career on the road. A lot of roads. Dirt roads, snow-packed roads, U.S. interstates and foreign highways. In other words, he got a lot of kilometres on the odometer, if you know what we mean.