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Prince George stands proud in afterglow of hosting world women's curling championship

World Curling Federation, Curling Canada give rave reviews to host committee and curling fans as nine-day event wraps up

If Prince George ever decides to bid on hosting another international curling event, it will have a Scottish blessing from Perth backing it.

After nine days of competition as host of the BTK Tires & OK Tire World Women’s Curling Championship, the tear-down crew moved into CN Centre Monday to dismantle the last remnants of a project that was six years in the making.

It took that long to finally pull it off. Who can forget the bitter disappointment in March 2020 felt by everybody involved when, hours before the first stones were to be tossed, the pandemic that was about to sweep the world started to spike in Canada?

The World Curling Federation lived up to its promise to give Prince George a do-over and the city pulled it off, virtually without a hitch. The venue was perfect, the fans were enthusiastic and showed their love for the curlers regardless of what flag they flew, the athletes reciprocated by showing what world-class excellence is all about and the 350 volunteers provided the glue that held it all together.

“It was postponed two years ago and I tell you it was worth the wait, they’ve really done a superb job, it’s been really outstanding,” said WCF president Kate Caithness.

“This is the first time we’ve had proper fans since the pandemic began and they’ve been great. We knew we were definitely coming back here, if they would have us.”

Caithness was in Beijing for the Olympic women’s, men’s and mixed doubles competitions in February and those events were opened up to a select live audience but curling fans were excluded as a pandemic precaution. There was little if any interaction between the curlers and the crowd.

Prince George was almost a return to normalcy.

“Here we’ve got knowledgeable curling fans and they’ve been really supportive for all the teams,” said Caithness. “They know what they’re speaking about, these fans, and I’ve loved it.

“I’d come back here tomorrow. Honestly, you should be well and truly proud of what Prince George has done. I’m from Europe and before this I didn’t know what Prince George was, but now I do. Your people, everybody, just opened their arms to us. I’ve spoken to the teams and they have loved it.”  

Attendance for 24 draws over nine days totaled 34,773. As expected, the biggest crowd (2,292) gathered Sunday afternoon for Switzerland’s 7-6 win over South Korea in the gold-medal game Sunday. While none of the draws came close to filling the 5,971-seat CN Centre, nobody was complaining about crowd sizes considering all that’s happened the last two years.

“We were really happy with it,” said Nolan Thiessen, Curling Canada’s director of broadcast, marketing, innovation and event presentation. “Honestly, two weeks ago B.C. still had 50 per cent capacity limits and stuff like that, so how can fans come out and make plans and the same for us, how can we make plans?

“As things opened up and the fans started coming out to support Canada and the other teams, we’re really happy with how it ended up. As you saw with a couple teams here this week, it’s not like COVID is completely gone and some people are not completely comfortable (joining a crowd), which is OK. They will be in the future.”

TSN’s coverage of all of Canada’s games and the medal matches went across Canada and the event also televised in Europe on Eurosport and NHK in Japan, among 30 countries WCF events are shown on TV. It was also streamed live throughout the world on Curling TV. That exposure could be repeated if Prince George ever lands another championship.

“We have an open bid process and we’ve had a lot of question from the mayor and some of the people from council asking about what we can do in the future and we have a lot of different events and we’re open for discussions,” said Thiessen. “We’ve seen it with a lot of different cities where they’ve come knocking a couple years later and we’ll see if Prince George does.

“In our media report for this event you’ll see the reach of a world championship and the amount of countries this thing ended up in and for Prince George it’s pretty cool to get to see your city on the world stage.”  

The threat of the virus was still there and COVID infections among the Scottish players forced them to withdraw after just two days of competition. COVID also forced Japan to forfeit its last game Friday. The teams did keep themselves in isolation as much as possible to avoid a similar fate.

But by the end of it all, that bubble had been popped.

As teams were eliminated from medal contention the players joined the crowd watching from the seats and became fans themselves. Danish skip Madeleine Dupont tracked down a young boy who had become a super fan of Team Denmark early in the week and gave him a big hug as she presented him with one of her brooms. Team Turkey, which traveled the furthest of any of the teams for a first-ever crack at a world women’s curling title, drew a loud ovation when the camera zoomed in to beam their images on the big screen a couple days after they brought the house down with their historic first win.

Who can forget teary-eyed Canadian skip Kerri Einarson as she embraced her eight-year-old twin daughters, Kamryn and Khloe, when they rushed down to ice level to throw their arms around her after she sealed their bronze-medal win over Sweden?

They made memories to last a lifetime and the question is not if but when the city finds itself at the centre of another curling spectacle that will grab the world’s attention.