And you thought the NBA season was short. The competitive curling-circuit season typically runs from September to April, but officially, the 2017-18 season began over the weekend with what stands to be the largest purse, men’s or women’s, in any curling event. In Siberia.
That’s because they had to accommodate the Arctic Curling Cup, a Curling Champions Tour-sanctioned event with a $100,000 U.S. purse, projected to be the most lucrative bonspiel of the season, eclipsing any given Grand Slam of Curling event when we factor in Canadian exchange rates. Advertised as the first curling tournament within the Arctic Circle, this took place in Dudinka, about 50 miles east of Norilsk, the heart of operations for Norilsk Nickel, the world’s largest producer of nickel. Its operations have led it to be named one of Time Magazine’s 10 most polluted places.
The winning team was Team Anna Sidorova, the 2014 Olympians and perennial Team Russia representative in world championships. In the final they defeated Team Jennifer Jones, winners of the 2014 Olympic gold medals and literally the world’s finest team of the last decade. The tournament’s big names also included Team Margaretha Sigfridsson from Sweden (2014’s silver medalists) and 2015 world champion Team Alina Pätz from Switzerland. The USA national team skipped by Nina Roth showed up as well. All to promote curling in a small mining freight town of about 20,000.
But in fairness, they brought the fireworks.
Russia’s love for—and unorthodox attempts to excel at—curling are well-documented. In 2010, the Russian Curling Federation signed three up-and-coming Canadian players (Jason Gunnlaugson, Tyler Forrest, and Justin Richter) to a four-year deal, at a reported $100,000 per player per year. They won the Russian national championship, but a month before they were supposed to go to the European championship, the Russians voided the deal after about six months, perhaps because they wouldn’t renounce their Canadian citizenship, or perhaps because they underperformed that season. Ultimately the Russians finished 7th out of 10 teams in the Sochi Olympics.
Their other notable tournament, which began a few years ago, is the Red Square Classic, a men’s event and the circuit’s only outdoor event, played with a backdrop of St. Basil’s Cathedral. In all fairness, the scenery for this one is immaculate, even though the quality of outdoor curling is usually akin to playing pool on an uneven table. Still, it always brings in some of the world’s top men’s teams.
They have since produced two world-class women’s teams, skipped by Sidorova and Victoria Moiseeva, and have simultaneously developed a world-class mixed doubles curling team, which won a world title in 2016 and will contend at the 2018 Olympic debut of this curling variant. Still, the sport was not immune from their far-reaching doping scandal, as noted in the McLaren report and further detailed by The Curling News. Affected athletes included one female curler and another unidentified athlete whose sample was labeled “curling world championship mixed doubles” in 2015. Two wheelchair curlers were apparently involved as well.
As for this event, its website says the expenses were funded by “local enterprises,” which almost certainly has to be the mining industry, with intent to promote curling as well as local tourism.
I’m never going to dissuade more curling clubs and tournaments, especially when the largesse goes directly to the athletes. But it remains strange: with the money to wave at big sporting events, Russia is using it on curling.