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Sweden - again

Yet again I was privileged to represent England to play in the World Seniors curling competition, which this year was staged in Östersund, Sweden. This town boasts 45,000 inhabitants and is located 460 km north-west of Stockholm. As the event started with the customary practice day on the Friday (20th April). I had made travel plans to leave Riyadh after work on the Thursday and travel overnight via Beirut and Stockholm, arriving in time for our afternoon practice, but things got a bit frisky in the eastern Mediterranean in the week prior to my departure, and some airspace was closed for a while. So, I made alternative plans and travelled earlier, flying from Riyadh in the early hours of Thursday, via Istanbul to Stockholm. From there I caught an IC (loco and carriage) train to Östersund and arrived there in time for dinner on Thursday evening, and was well rested for our practice.


Östersund Town Hall

The remainder of our team flew out from either London or Edinburgh and we were all there by Thursday night. Elaine joined us 24 hours later, and stayed until the following Wednesday morning, being unable to avoid missing a parents’ consultation evening at her school on the next Thursday. We stayed in a nice but modest small hotel in Östersund city centre. It turned out that we were the only team staying there, as the remainder of the rooms had been booked by the World Curling Federation (WCF) for its umpires, timers and other officials required to manage and oversee the Seniors (mens and ladies competitions) and the parallel Mixed Doubles world championships. 40 different countries were represented at the competitions, with 40 MD teams, 16 Senior Ladies and 28 Senior Mens teams there in total. With a staggering 326 games scheduled to be played, this was the largest indoor curling event ever held in the one place.

So how did we do? In our section of seven teams, we had six games. We won three of these (v Turkey, Belgium and France), and lost three (v Switzerland, Germany and the last one which was a must-win against Canada and which eliminated us from the competition). Canada went on to win gold medal, beating reigning back-to-back two-time champions Sweden in the final. But, most importantly we met our 3-wins target, but not the stretch target of beating Germany and qualifying out of the group. I played reasonably well, and was pleased with that, not having played on decent ice since last year’s event in Lethbridge (Canada). But equally importantly we met old friends and made many new ones. We finished 16th ranked (out of 28), and my brother Neil’s team representing Ireland finished in 13th place.

I also requested and was granted a meeting with the WCF President and Secretary-General. I was able to give them an update on how curling is progressing in KSA. They were very pleased with our advances and offered their continuing support. If KSA’s representative (me) is able to attend the WCF annual Congress in Budapest in September and demonstrate continual progress, we could (subject to ratification by the other member countries) be elevated to the second tier of WCF membership, and then be allowed to enter WCF level competitions. All very exciting! And by good fortune, the box of dates which we presented to WCF President Kate Caithness turned out to be her favourite indulgence.


Kate's dates

We had rented a car to run about in Östersund, and on the Sunday we had a day off. Four of us (myself, Elaine, and another husband and wife) drove off 75km to the town of Åre (pronounced Aura), which is Sweden’s main alpine skiing centre (Östersund is its main Nordic skiing centre and there is an impressive Biathalon stadium there). We had a pleasant few hours in Åre, it is a nice wee town situated at the side of a frozen lake with the ski-runs climbing the side of the valley. If I half-shut my eyes, its location reminded me of St Moritz, but certainly without the towering mountains and the Cresta Run. Whilst it was busy with skiers, it was nearing the end of season, and things were starting to wind down a bit. The hills are small by Alpine standards, but the northern latitude close to the Arctic Circle ensures that skiing lasts until May.  For lunch we found a crèperie and indulged ourselves, sitting outside in the sunshine. Lovely! The town's name made me recall one of the favourite sayings of Stewart Palmer, one of the most pragmatic people I know and who used to be MD of South West Trains in the UK : "We are where we are".


Åre crèperie with two Elaines

Finally, a word of caution. If you are ever temped to hire a Mercedes A-class, do not try to fit any more than four adults into it. Preferably ones who are less than 5’10’’ (178cm), unless they have detachable heads for getting in and out of the very low doors. Three six-foot+ curlers, one average sized curler, one female team coach/wife and a brush bag does not make for easy loading.


A-class with Åre and its lake in the background. Mike (6'2") is about to try and fold himself into the car.

To be continued….



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