November curling preview

The European Championships are coming to Scotland this month – photo:

The European Curling Championships are in Braehead this month – what, you hadn’t heard? That’s the really big one, but what else is going on through November? Read on…

CookstownCash (World Curling Tour)
Dates: November 3-6
Number of teams: 40 (30 men’s; 10 women’s)
Scottish teams: Team Smith
Last year’s winners: Team De Cruz (Switzerland)

Team Smith take on a host of local rinks in Cookstown, Ontario, as well as big-hitters such as Team Epping, Team Howard and Team De Cruz (defending champions). The competition begins with a pool stage ahead of knockouts – Smith are in Pool D with Teams Bailey, Gordon, Robillard and Ross.

Edinburgh International Curling Championship (Scottish Curling Tour)
Dates: November 4-6
Number of teams: 18
Scottish teams: Team Bryce, Team Fraser, Team Hardie, Team MacDonald, Team Mouat
Last year’s winners: Team Hardie

The Goldline Scottish Curling Tour’s third event of the season takes place at Murrayfield Curling in the capital. Hardie look to defend their title against home opposition and some more than capable challengers from abroad – chief among them 2016 World silver medallists Team Stjerne – with entries coming from the Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Norway, Poland, Switzerland and Wales.

Inverness Junior International (Asham U21 Slam) (Royal Caledonian Curling Club)
Dates: November 4-6
Number of teams: 18 (10 boys’; 8 girls’)
Last year’s winners: Team Brydone; Team Murray

Usual suspects on the Scottish circuit Team Bryce and Team Jackson are not taking part in this U21 Slam, which allows the likes of Team Whyte (boys’ side), Team K Aitken and Team MacDonald (girls’) the opportunity to take advantage by gaining vital ranking points.

World Wheelchair-B Curling Championship (World Curling Federation)
Dates: November 4-6
Number of teams: 16
Last year’s winners: Norway

Lohja in Finland hosts the Wheelchair-B Championship, where Scotland are represented by 2014 Winter Paralympic bronze medallist Aileen Neilson (skip), Gregor Ewan, Hugh Nibloe, Robert McPherson and Angie Malone (alternate) – and hope to improve on last season’s fifth-place finish. England, skipped by Rosemary Lenton, also compete.

Pacific-Asia Curling Championships (World Curling Federation)
Dates: November 5-12
Number of teams: 17 (9 men’s; 8 women’s)
Last year’s winners: Soo Hyuk Kim (Korea); Satsuki Fujisawa (Japan)

With curling’s focus being steadily pulled eastwards both by the strength of Asian teams in world competitions and the location of the 2018 Winter Olympics, this event in Uiseong, South Korea, is one to watch. The women’s rinks of Bingyu Wang (China), Satsuki Fujisawa (Japan) and Kim Eunjung (Korea) make for a fearsome threesome and the competition between them is likely to be fierce. Rui Liu (China) and Yusuke Morozumi (Japan) are among those on the men’s side.

National Masters Curling Championship – Qualifiers (Royal Caledonian Curling Club)
Dates: November 8-10
Number of teams: 30

Greenacres hosts the qualifying event for the National Masters Curling Championship, with Scottish curlers over the age of 60 eligible to take part. Thirty rinks in six sections are expected to compete for those qualification spots.

Tour Challenge (Grand Slam of Curling)
Dates: November 8-13
Number of teams: 60 (30 men’s; 30 women’s)
Scottish teams: Team Murdoch, Team Smith (tier 1), Team Brewster, Team Mouat (tier 2); Team Fleming (tier 2)
Last year’s winners: Team Koe (tier 1), Team Cotter (tier 2); Team Tirinzoni (tier 1), Team Einarson (tier 2)

Grand Slams are like buses, apparently. Two in very quick succession! After the Masters in Okotoks, Alberta, it’s time for the Tour Challenge in Cranbrook, British Columbia. Teams Murdoch and Smith go in tier 1, where Team Edin will look to make it a Swedish double after taking the Masters. Teams Brewster and Mouat are in tier 2, while Team Fleming compete in women’s tier 2.

Forfar Open (Scottish Curling Tour)
Dates: November 11-13
Last year’s winners: Team Mouat; Team Jackson

Forfar Indoor Sports’ unique competition – the sole Scottish Curling Tour event with a women’s section – returns. Team Mouat won’t be there to defend their title (see above), nor will Team Jackson (see below), so there’ll be two new champions this season.

World Junior Women’s B Playdown (Royal Caledonian Curling Club)
Dates: November 11-13

Karina Aitken and Sophie Jackson’s rinks will battle it out over a best-of-five series to fly the Scottish flag at the World Junior B Curling Championships in January – and hopefully get Scotland promoted to the A-Division for next season.

ZO Women’s Tournament (Curling Champions Tour)
Dates: November 11-13
Number of teams: 24
Scottish teams: Team Aitken, Team Muirhead, Team Smith
Last year’s winners: Team Feltscher (Switzerland)

Team Muirhead warm up for the European Championships with this tournament in Wetzikon, Switzerland. They are joined by Teams Gina Aitken and Hazel Smith, as well as the likes of Teams Feltscher (Switzerland), Nielsen (Denmark) and Sidorova (Russia). There are four pools of six teams, with playoffs on the Sunday.

The Baljaffray Trophy (Asham U17 Slam) (Royal Caledonian Curling Club)
Dates: November 12-13
Number of teams: 24
Last year’s winners: Team Whyte

Greenacres hosts the latest round of the U17 Slam series. Teams Craik, Haswell and Kinnear will once again be expected to challenge for this title and ranking points, with overall winners gaining entry to a World Curling Federation junior curling camp in Germany next year.

Mixed Doubles Bern (Curling Champions Tour)
Dates: November 18-20
Number of teams: 32
Scottish teams: Gina Aitken/Bruce Mouat, Judith McCleary/Lee McCleary

Two Scottish pairs travel to Switzerland for this inaugural mixed doubles event, to challenge alongside 30 other teams including Szekeres/Nagy (Hungary), Bryzgalova/Krusheinitcki (Russia) and Perret/Rios (Switzerland). There are qualification matches, playoffs and a consolation cup.

 Red Deer Curling Classic (World Curling Tour)
Dates: November 18-21
Number of teams: 54 (32 men’s; 22 women’s)
Scottish teams: Team Murdoch, Team Smith; Team Fleming
Last year’s winners: Team Lizmore; Team Rocque

Red Deer, Alberta, hosts this major World Curling Tour event (triple knockout format), with the three Scottish rinks taking part being the losing teams at the European Playdowns last month. Look out for the likes of Teams Bottcher, Koe, Carey and Rocque on the men’s and women’s sides.

European Curling Championships (World Curling Federation)
Dates: November 19-26
Number of teams: 46 (26 men’s; 20 women’s)
Scottish teams: Team Brewster; Team Muirhead
Last year’s winners: Team Edin (Sweden); Team Sidorova (Russia)

It’s almost here! Braehead hosts the Europeans, with 46 teams in men’s and women’s A and B-Divisions. Can Team Brewster build on their last performance at Worlds? Will Team Edin reign supreme again (they’re on brilliant form)? Can Team Muirhead go one better than in Esbjerg, with Team Sidorova failing to qualify? Or is it time for Team Hasselborg’s true international arrival? So many questions, so many top curlers – let’s hope they attract big crowds.

Inside World Curling TV

Screens, screens, screens: The WCTV nerve centre (van)

World Curling TV (WCTV), the media arm of the World Curling Federation (WCF), screens games from elite competitions such as the World Championships, World Juniors – and the Europeans in Esbjerg which took place last week.

I spoke to Joanna Kelly, media relations officer at the WCF, about the organisation and its operations.

WCTV has been going since 2004, and Joanna got involved just one year after that – beginning with the 2005 European Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

She said: “I’m the broadcast manager, and I’m responsible for overseeing the setting up of the production and our relationships with our broadcast partners – ensuring that what we put to air corresponds to what they would like.

“Sometimes they have crews on site, so we have co-productions. Essentially I convert paperwork deals into action.”

WCTV has no staff – everyone working on productions are freelance, including Joanna herself – but as a team they plan months in advance, with the World Championships now coming onto the horizon as qualified nations are confirmed and so broadcast deals can be worked out.

The people working on major championships such as those in Esbjerg are skilled professionals, with many, many years in the industry and many years spent together covering these curling events.

They range from Richard, the director, to Randie (who also happens to be the skip of the Chinese Tapei men’s curling team), who puts together the graphics like scores and player names we see on our screens.

Then there’s Len. We’ve heard a lot about ‘joystick’ curling in the last couple of months – but that’s what his job is. Sat up above the action, he rotates cameras to get the best angles, having been working in curling coverage since the 1970s.

Director Richard is in constant communication with his cameramen, both up on the gantry behind the coach and media benches, and the three down at ice level.

The media view down onto the curling arena

He does so from the truck parked outside the Granly Hockey Arena, the vehicle being hired from a Dutch firm, who also kit it out and provide some on-site staff for the championships.

Joanna took me round the van during the bronze medal matches, where I saw live action being scrutinised, replays sourced, streams correlated so that viewers could hop between the two games – and the sound kept in check too, so we wouldn’t hear Nielsen when we should’ve heard Ulsrud.

It’s a huge operation – and that’s just covering two coinciding games, as opposed to five during round robin play. To someone not used to TV production, the vast array of booths, screens and control panels was a little mind-spinning (see top photo).

Fifty-five people in all have contributed to the WCTV project in Esbjerg, Joanna tells me.

It’s an increasingly professional operation, which is reflected in the rising viewer numbers – now more than 444 million people, according to the WCF’s 2014-15 annual review.

Why is that? Joanna explains: “Viewing numbers are boosted by the performance of Asian teams, and also the fact we’ve got some terrific athletes out there who are great to look at and people like watching them.”

Expansion-wise, WCTV is also looking to help out member associations with other events beyond the major international competitions – as they did at the Stockholm Ladies Cup – and work on feature pieces like this one on the Dutch men’s team in Esbjerg:

Finally, I asked Joanna for the biggest challenge in her role.

“Constantly adapting to broadcasters’ last-minute changes or modifications,” she said.

“That, and trying to get people outside of our sport to understand it. That has been helped by the change to the semi final system for example [straight knock-out instead of page playoffs].”

And the most fulfilling part?

“One of the undoubted rewards is working with this team of people who are just fantastic, and working with a sport that has brilliant athletes who are trying to promote [what they do].

“The games we’ve seen [in Esbjerg] have been top class, and have been worth all the work we do for the coverage and to get people to take the sport seriously, as increasing numbers of people are doing.”