The plane was five minutes from Prince George when Swedish lead Sofia Mabergs learned from her phone that the World Women’s Curling Championship was cancelled.
Sharing that flight with Team Sweden were the Italian and German teams, and for everybody involved, news of the worsening coronavirus outbreak left them stunned.
It’s taken them a lifetime of preparation to get to the point where they were good enough curlers to make the cut for the 13-team tournament, which was supposed to start Saturday and they won’t get that chance to fly their country’s flag on the ice at CN Centre, at least not this year.
German skip Daniela Jentsch was about to make her sixth-straight world championship appearance, competing with the same crew that finished ninth in the world last year in Denmark.
“The hardest part is we’ve prepared so well and we really felt ready for this week and we don’t know if that was just a feeling or if it actually was the right stuff we did in advance,” said Jentsch. “We can’t prove it now, so we will never know.
“The heart breaking part is that all the volunteers, they put so much work into the event and they’re in it with all their heart, and now they can’t prove it. We get to compete all the time, but a world championship in Canada is always special. I think we would have loved it here and hopefully they will get another chance to hold a world championship here because they worked so hard and they deserve it.”
The threat of COVID-19 kept most of the Asian and European teams in North America for much of the curling season to try to avoid the hot spots for the virus and minimize the risk. Germany has been closing its borders with neighbouring countries and some of the countries involved in the tournament have been enforcing travel restrictions which might complicate travel when the teams return home.
“We have a flight home but we don’t know if London will accept us. It can change by the minute,” said Jentsch.
“It’s the same for everyone, everyone is disappointed all over the world, it’s not only us. We just thought they would let it happen without spectators. It’s unfair for everyone, but I think the health situation is more important.”
Jentsch’s team includes younger sister Analena Jentsch at lead, third Emira Abbes, second Klara-Hermine Fomm and alternate Mia Höhne and this is their second year together. Bronze medalists a year ago at the European championships, they played in several tournaments this season in Canada. They’d spent the past seven weeks in Fussen, Germany, training 10 hours per day every day for the past seven weeks to be on top of their game once they got to Prince George.
The German team made its return flight arrangements Friday morning at Prince George Airport, after the Canadian, American and Italy teams left on an earlier flight. The rest of the teams were due to fly out later Friday.
“I really feel bad for the Canadian team that just won the Scotties,” said Abbes. “They took the hardest road and they deserved to be here. Especially with the Canadian team, you will never know if they get a second chance to play in the world championship. Making your way through (Rachel) Homan and (Jennifer (Jones) it’s hard.”