Olympic Insider Report – February 19th

Wow, have there ever been some heavy hitters coming through the Vancouver Olympic Centre this week! It started off on Monday during the practices when Princess Anne — yes, Princess Anne, the daughter of Queen Elizabeth — took in the entire British men’s practice, going from sheet to sheet and sitting with the British coaches. It looked like she even suggested to David Hay that David Murdoch was flaring his out-turn just a little bit! Or maybe that was the Insider’s imagination! The president of the Vancouver Olympics organizing committee John Furlong had been at the rink a couple times and has been raving about the atmosphere. I bet he wishes they could have had curling in a bigger building because the crowds have been fantastic! On Friday, Vernon Davis, a National Football League player for the San Francisco 49ers arrived in town. He’s the honorary captain for the U.S. Olympic teams. And he wasn’t even the biggest name! On the other side of the building, Juan Antonio Samaranch, the former president of the International Olympic Committee was watching the games. Sitting beside him were former World Curling Federation Roy Sinclair of Scotland, who is one of the men who helped make curling an official medal sport, as well as current WCF president Les Harrison, who’s from Moncton, 1998 Olympic gold-medal winning skip Patrick Huerlimann of Switzerland, who now is a member of the WCF executive committee, and Gilbert Felli, the IOC’s executive director of the Olympic Games. In other words, there’s no shortage of famous people watching curling these days, which is awesome to see! I wonder what they’re thinking of those Norwegian pants? What’s also nice to see are the Canadians who are contributing to making the curling competition such a great Olympic event. Did you know the venue manager in Vancouver was an Olympian himself? Neil Houston has been preparing the Vancouver Olympic Centre for curling for a few years now, and he knows exactly what to do. In addition to playing for Canada in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, where curling was a demonstration sport (he played for the Ed Lukowich rink), he also worked for the CCA for years and helped run championship events across the country. Neil’s assistant, by the way, is Kyla Denisuik Dickey, who used to do some great work for the Manitoba Curling Association before getting the job with Vanoc The chief umpire, who oversees all the officials who conduct measurements and help resolve on-ice issues, is Rae Kells of Calgary, who’s one of Canada’s top officials. And those familiar tones on the loud-speaker belong to none other than Russ Peake, a long-time friend of curling who worked as a sportscaster in Calgary. What’s really cool is that you can buy a radio receiver once you come into the building and you can pick up an in-house play-by-play broadcast of the games. The broadcast crew features Luke Coley from curltv.com, Jackie-Rae Greening, a radio announcer from Edmonton who played at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts three times, and seven-time Quebec men’s champion Don Westphal, who’s doing some of the play-by-play in French. They offer some great insight on all of the games, and it’s a good investment to make once you get to the rink. It should be a great game tonight when the Canadian men play Britain, the same two teams who played for the gold medal at the Ford world men’s championship in Moncton last April. We all know what happened there, right? Do you think Kevin and the boys can get some revenge tonight? We’ll see!