No I will not write about the Super Bowl this week
Newspaper headline: Can our youngsters bring home gold against the world’s best?
Will this finally be the year the United States women curling team will win an Olympic medal? I admit I am a little worried about having such a young team carrying the weight and burden of the entire country on their shoulders. The entire team will be making their Olympic debuts at Torino and that concerns me. While many of the world‘s best were already out on the ice cracking eggs, our only hope for our country’s first curling medal were still watching Sesame Street.
Our skip is 24-year-old Cassie Johnson. Her vice skip is her 25-year-old sister Jamie Johnson, which qualifies her as the elder statesmen on the team. Filling out the roster is 21-year-old Jessica Schultz, 23-year old Maureen Brunt with 19-year-old Courtney George as the alternate. That youth is reflected in the name of their website, www.curlgurls.com, where they will be keeping a blog while in Torino. Curlers who look like models and blog, my how the sport has evolved.
Admittedly while the Johnson sister’s wholesomely beautiful girl next door looks can only help raise the profile of the sport in America, they would be several years younger than the youngest player on any other medal contender. While the Johnson sisters did grow up in America’s curling Mecca, Bemidji, Minnesota, one wonders, prodigy or not, how a young team will handle the bright lights on the world’s biggest stage.
As you recall, Johnson and her team upset 2002 U.S. Olympian Debbie McCormick on a clutch shot that needed no sweeping. They burst on the international scene at the last World Championships taking second place to Sweden. But Johnson has struggled recently on the cash circuit. While I applaud Team USA’s decision to name our Olympic team last February and therefore allow the team a full year to bond and develop together, one has to wonder if complacency has settled in and if the youngsters can peak in Torino. CBC commentator and 1998 gold medallist Joan McCusker was quoted saying the following in an article on CBC.ca.
“They haven't had a good showing this fall. Their shot making is very good but they made some strategic errors during the world (championship) final. It's hard to even warn people about how much different the Olympics are. It is the most stress that you can imagine. If you make mistakes or have a bad day, it will not soon be forgotten," she said.
While McCusker believes our lack of experience will keep us off the medal stand, she isn’t worried about Canada’s first timers. While the sport was born in Scotland, we all know that Canada perfected it. So while Canadian skip Shannon Klebrink is new to the Olympics, the 37-year old has had to battle and scrap against the best players in the world to win the honor of representing her country. She is battle tested. And while most of the world is looking past Canada, the CBC is boldly picking them to upset the favored Swedes and bring home gold.
“Shannon is not new to the game of curling," McCusker is quoted as saying. "She curls a tremendous amount and she has had a lot of success at the game. And she's one of the most comfortable players I've ever seen in throwing last rock. Shannon will never shy away from that pressure."
And how about the Swedes? The defending World Champs are led by 39-year old Anette Norberg who has now won five straight European Championships. But has fame clouded Norberg’s passion for the sport? She has literally become a rock star. Norberg and her team are appearing in Grammy nominated HammerFall’s most recent video, which can be found at www.Hammer-fall.net. Hanging out with metal bands seems no way to prepare for this most important bonspiel.
As we all know, the Salt Lake City games featured the Cinderella story of the Great Britain team. The team actually made up of Scots shocked the world with their gold medal win. The winning stone now referred to as the “Stone of Destiny” is now featured in a Scottish museum. Rhoda Martin is returning to defend her crown in an interesting Riches-to-Rags story. The toast of the empire after winning Great Britain’s first gold medal since 1984, fell from that height to living on welfare. Hero the likes of William Wallace and Robert Burns, Martin was ready to quit the sport. But urged on by her children she has bounced back to skip this year‘s team, making one wonder if miracles can happen twice.
At any rate, there are story lines galore at Torino. Can lightning strike twice? Are the Swedes focused or are they overconfident? Will Canada return to glory? Can youth bring home America’s first medal?
It all begins Monday bright and early at 8 a.m. when the United States takes on Norway and Canada and Sweden duke it out in what promises to be an exciting event. May there be no kiggle-kaggles. Have fun and enjoy.