Having witnessed the enthusiastic crowds that rocked the Vancouver Olympic curling venue in February 2010, curling fans may find it hard to believe that there was a time when the whole world wasn’t hooked on curling.
Yes, Canadian teams have been a constant presence at the highest levels of curling competition across this country and internationally, as have teams from familiar European curling nations, such as Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. The United States has been rapidly gaining ground, as are teams from Asia. But, the World Curling Federation (WCF) realized – long before curling became an Olympic event – that something was needed to boost the sport’s image and encourage participation beyond the well-established curling nations. The challenge facing the WCF was how to take curling to the wider world.
They found their answer, after discussions with the Canadian Curling Association (CCA) and the United States Curling Association (USCA), by looking at an historic competition in a completely different sport: golf. The Ryder Cup has been pitting American and British golfers against each other since 1927. Why not try something similar for curling?
Birth of the Continental Cup
The WCF, the CCA, and the USCA began exploring how they could encourage the growth of curling beyond its well-established centres. In 2002, following the Ryder Cup model, they introduced the first Continental Cup of Curling, an international featuring Team North America (four teams from Canada, and two from the United States) and Team World (six teams chosen specifically for the event by the WCF).
A curling competition pitting elite teams from North America against the sport’s international elite was a great start. Teams competing against each other on the ice for pride and prizes? Of course. But there had to be more. So the CCA, USCA and WCF came up with a unique format never seen before in international curling competition.
On-Ice Action both Familiar and Unique
At the Continental Cup, the on-ice action provides a change from the usual curling event. With a total of 400 points at stake, the goal is to achieve the majority (201 points) in a variety of events, some familiar, and some very different.
Traditional team games are eight ends, with no extra ends. But Mixed Doubles pairs one player from a men’s team and one from a women’s as throwers and another pair as sweepers, with each team playing only five rocks during an end. Singles involves a mixed pair of curlers throwing six basic curling shots, with points awarded on a scale of 0-5 to reflect the success of each shot. The Skins format, familiar to golf and more recently in Canadian curling events, awards a graduated scale of points for each of the eight ends, with a “skin” being earned if the team counts two or more points with hammer or steals one point without hammer.
Rivals Become Teammates
With the format set, the next challenge was to create teams that would offer something a little different. Cue the Ryder Cup model: each “team” is made up of curlers who regularly compete against each other. For instance, the inaugural 2002 event saw reigning Brier champion, Edmonton’s Randy Ferbey, wearing the “Team North America” team jacket beside perpetual cross-town rival and Olympic silver medalist Kevin Martin. The 2000 Women’s World Champion, Kelley Law, found herself cheering Scotties rival and 2001 Women’s World champion Colleen Jones. Scottish teams were suddenly on the same side as their Swedish and Norwegian rivals. Fans loved it! What’s more, the curlers appeared to love it too.
Pride and Prizes
The Continental Cup is one of the first CCA’s Season of Champions events, but its vibe is completely different from any event on the curling calendar. For one thing, it’s an international affair in which continents collide. Athletes aren’t competing for Canadian Team Ranking points, individual honours or the right to wear their country’s colours at a future international event. Points – and winning – mean prize money: $52,000 Cdn for the winning team prior to the final, $26,000 Cdn for the losing side prior to the final and an additional $13,000 on the line for the final game winner.
But it’s also about more than money. Some of world’s most elite curlers are suddenly teammates, high-fiving, showing up to cheer each other at early-morning games, and interacting with erstwhile opponents – and the fans – in a way never seen at traditional curling competitions.
When opponents become teammates and compete for pride and prizes, the fun factor goes through the roof, for curlers and curling fans alike.
That’s the WFG Continental Cup of Curling!