OGDEN — If you've never thought much about watching world-class curling, you might want to take a gander during the next 10 days. You may find yourself mesmerized by a sport that's been called chess on ice.
Junior curlers from Canada, France, Germany, Denmark, Japan, Norway, Russia, Scotland, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States are converging this week at The Ice Sheet in Ogden for the 2001 World Junior Curling Championships.
The bonspiel, curling term for tournament, runs March 15-25 and includes 10 men's teams and 10 women's teams competing in a preliminary round robin, the tournament, semi-finals and finals. The young curlers are under age 21, with many touted as the next generation of Olympians.
Preparations for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City have brought increasing familiarity among Utahns with a wider variety of winter sports. And curling is certainly no exception. The Ogden Curling Club now has some 75 members who compete annually in local bonspiels. An Ogden youth team even competed in the recent regional championships in Omaha, Neb., against the eventual national champions — the Andy Roza team, which is hoping for a world title this week.
"Utah has embraced the sport," said Lisa Schoeneberg, curling coordinator for the Salt Lake Organizing Committee and a champion curler from Wisconsin. During a SLOC media briefing Monday in Salt Lake City, Schoeneberg spoke of the misconceptions people have about curling. (Those who have misconceptions have simply never tried the sport, she said.)
"It's a finesse sport. I like to liken it to chess on ice," she added. "It's just like every other sport. I work hard. This is an Olympic sport. Everyone has their own sport. It's time to get on the wagon."
In curling, athletes "throw" granite stones — quarried in Scotland or Wales — from a crouching position while sliding over the ice. They aim for a target (called a "house") on the other end of the arena. Opponents also aim for the target, while attempting to knock other stones out of play. Games are played in "ends," or innings. Points are scored according to whose stones are closest to the target.
Of the 2 million curlers in the world, about 1.8 million live in Canada, said Schoeneberg, who has been "throwing" since she was 13 years old. It's also very popular in Europe, where it was developed in the 16th century. But SLOC officials, including SLOC President Mitt Romney, hope it and other winter sports — such as bobsledding and speedskating — will grow in Utah as a result of the 2002 Winter Games.
"As a place of mountains and ice, (Utahns) are not as tuned in to winter sports as are European countries and the Northeast (United States), which is closer to Canada," Romney said, adding that he hopes interest in the Games will heighten Utahns' interest in these Olympic sports.
The 2001 World Junior Curling Championships certainly provide one opportunity to become familiar with this Olympic winter sport. The bonspiel runs daily, beginning Thursday. Opening ceremonies on Wednesday evening at the Ogden Eccles Conference Center are open to the public with a dessert social at 6:30 p.m., and ceremonies at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $5.
The competition tickets are $4 for a daily pass (excluding semi-finals and finals), $6 for semi-finals, $10 for finals and $45 for an event pass. Tickets for the closing party at Ogden's Union Station on Sunday, March 25, are also available for $15. Advance tickets can be purchased at SMITHTIX by telephone at 800-888-8499 or 801-467-8499 or on line at www.smithtix.com. Tickets can also be purchased at The Ice Sheet ticket booth. Children under 12 receive free admission.
The Ogden Ice Sheet is located at 4390 Harrison Boulevard in Ogden.