North America crushes Team World in record fashion at WFG Continental Cup

It was one of the great anti-climaxes in the history of world curling. That’s if you rate the World Financial Group Continental Cup as a serious competition, in a league with world championships and Olympic Games. Kevin Martin’s Edmonton team, anchoring Team North America, took advantage when Norway’s Thomas Ulsrud missed a nose-double with his last rock of the seventh end and yielded the gift of a 35-point skin and an additional $13,000 Cdn, which capped the biggest blowout in the history of the event. The final count, once the eighth and final skin was settled, read Team North America 298, Team World 102. The previous record difference was established at Medicine Hat in 2007 when the Amerks thrashed the visitors 290-110. The 26 members (24 players plus captain and coach) of the winning team divvied up $65,000 Cdn. The losing World teammates shared $26,000 Cdn. Canadian Curling Association manager Warren Hansen of Port Coquitlam, B.C. attempted Sunday to put the event in a different perspective. “Maybe,” he was saying, “we’ve been guilty of failing to communicate our real purposes with this event.” Sure, it’s patterned after the Ryder Cup of golf, he admits. But perhaps that analogy is far too grandiose, based on the less-than-precocious state of the game in most countries other than Canada. “Look at it more like curling’s all-star week,” he says, alluding to the annual promotions of pro hockey, pro basketball and pro baseball. “This is our opportunity to showcase the best players in the world, and taking part in different disciplines which highlight the shots and strategy of the game.” In terms of talent, this was, indeed, an all-star week. Chock full of Olympians and world champions. In fact, the field of competitors offered nothing but Olympians and world champions. But, as Team World coach Peja Lindholm admitted on Saturday night: “They (the North Americans) were a lot better than us, we just have to accept that. We just didn’t perform as well as I know we can. When we are on the top level of our game we play really well, but there were too many errors here.”

Thomas Ulsrud at the 2011 Continental Cup

The trend was reflected again Sunday with Martin’s final men’s decision. Earlier in the day, Cheryl Bernard’s Olympic silver medallists rolled past bronze medallist Bingyu Wang of China 42-13. “It was a good game,” said Martin of the closer. “I had a tough shot but a makeable shot in the sixth and rolled too far. Then he had a makeable shot in the seventh. Same thing, he just put it back a little. He would make that shot more than he’d miss it.” Added Ulsrud of the game-buster: “I was a touch tight on the broom, I put it back and halfway I thought I had it, I felt kind of stupid when I turned to look at our bench and yelled ‘show me the money’ . . . and, then, oops, it jammed.” Ulsrud and Martin traded four-point skins at the outset, Martin’s in the second end set up by a runback double-kill from second player Marc Kennedy. The subsequent four skins wound up carried over, setting up the 35-point seventh that appeared to be headed Norway’s way until Martin executed a raise to the four-foot and Ulsrud failed to drive the Martin shooter on the raise stone and spill both. Ulsrud banged a cluster of rocks to force the third-skin carryover. Following a rare blank for the fourth carryover, Ulsrud narrowly missed an angle-raise double to settle for the fifth carryover. Martin rolled his last shooter too far on a tap leaving the sixth carryover. The Norwegian skip executed as routine hit to score a deuce and claim the final eighth skin worth 12 points. “We had our chances. He had his chances,” said Ulsrud. “As with so many times before, it turned out Kevin won it. And that was pretty much the story of the week for Team World.” He was questioned about a decision to show up for the opening parade into the arena wearing Norway’s controversial collection of psychedelic trousers. “The Cup was lost so we just wanted to have some fun out there (wearing the pants),” said Ulsrud. “All the Team World players looked alike so we thought it would add some fun. I think the crowd liked it, I don’t know about the referees.” Martin lauded the St. Albert organizing committee. “It looks good on them,” said the Olympic gold-medal skip. “Hopefully Langley can follow it up next year with the same type of thing. “It’s a unique event, a lot like the (TSN) Skins next week. The singles are dry but everything else is really good. And the ice was fantastic. It makes a big difference when you’ve got that kind of surface to play on. Anything’s possible and it’s better entertainment for the crowd.” In the end, president Rick Williams of the World Financial Group expressed elation with his firm’s sponsoring involvement, both in the Continental Cup and the Canadian Seniors championship. “We’re more than happy to be involved in this Continental Cup event and curling in general. It has grown to be an important part of what we do and we’re excited to look forward to where this partnership (with the Season Of Champions) is going.” Williams said he’s especially looking forward to the 2012 Cup renewal at Langley, B.C. “It would have been great for this result to have been in doubt right to the very end. But there are times when it’s going to be lopsided. Hopefully, Team World will come back strong.” Williams predicts the popularity of curling will increase in time. “I think we’ll be looking at expanding our support as a sponsoring company and to trying to bring it up to another level. “It’s a sport that anyone can play, young or old. But it’s the strategy I like. You have to use your head. It’s a tactical game. That makes it pretty exciting to me.”