By Al Ledgerwood
The accomplishment of the Suzanne Birt rink at the recent Scotties was incredible. Its equivalent is having the UPEI Hockey Panthers beat the Leafs and the Flyers in a round robin tournament. Jennifer Jones is a multiple Canadian, World, and Olympic Champion and Chelsea Carrie is now a two-time Scotties champ. They are both professional curlers.
Suzanne Birt and her team train through the entire off-season. Ice typically goes into local curling clubs in late October and November. The Birt rink practises at noon or after work and plays at their own expense in five or six spiels throughout the winter.
Jennifer Jones, Rachel Homan, and company practise, play and workout almost year round. They travel all over the curling world starting as early as August and ending in late April. They are sponsored, endorsed, and for the most part, make their living curling. More importantly, these teams play all of their events and practise exclusively on ice that is “WCT or TV level.” Their ice is quicker and curls more than most club ice.
Anyone who has ever curled or golfed knows the advantage that one gets from playing on a surface that is familiar and comfortable. Amateur teams never experience this advantage as they are restricted from playing on the World Curling Tour by a clause that says you have to win your way onto the tour. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough spiels offering enough points for the average amateur team to “win its way.” Neat Catch 22. Rogers TV and the competitors on the WCT do not want unknowns winning spiels; it’s bad for business.
In order to be competitive at a Scotties or Brier, amateur teams have to have better fundamentals, equal conditioning, and better skills at adapting to ice surfaces than the pros. The latter is particularly important. One only needs to look at the last Olympics where Rachel Holman and Kevin Koe failed to medal mainly because of problems with reading the ice and playing on a slightly slower surface.
One can only imagine how the Scotties and Brier would look if they were an equal playing field.
Al Ledgerwood is a former coach and player who coached at both the Scotties and Brier, including Kathy O’Rourke when she won the silver medal at the 2010 Scotties.