Curling fans elated as world men's championship finally hits the ice in Ottawa

Thirteen teams from around the world will be in Ottawa this week, throwing draws and peels at the world men's curling championship. For local fans, it's been a long wait for a tournament that was supposed to have happened two years ago.

13-team tournament was slated for 2021, but then the pandemic happened

A man poses for a photo while curlers stand next to curling sheets in the background.
Samuel Akca poses for a photo as the Turkish men's curling team stands behind him. The Ottawa club curler said getting to meet the team one day ahead of its debut at the world curling championships was 'amazing.' (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Samuel Akca didn't expect to be standing next to athletes from his home country, competing at the top level in the sport he loves.

But on Friday, Akca watched the Turkish men's curling team practice draws and takeouts on the ice at Ottawa's TD Place arena, one day before the country makes its debut at the world men's curling championships.

"I feel amazing!" said the 34-year-old curler, who'd never heard of the sport growing up but embraced it after arriving in Canada about 15 years ago.

He even caught the team's eyes and greeted them with a friendly merhaba and hoş geldin — "hello" and "welcome," respectively, in Turkish.

Ottawa's Samuel Akca recently took up curling. He's originally from Turkey. He'll be cheering on both his home teams as Turkey makes its debut at the 2023 World Men's Curling Championships. Host Giacomo Panico and Samuel had a brush with the Turkish rink at TD Place Arena.

"I'm happy that I'm here to support them," Akca said. "And to just make them feel that they're not alone, as well."

Better late than never

With their men's team ranked 93rd in the world, Turkey might not be considered a global curling power.

But after a successful European qualifying run, the team has found itself among the 13 rinks descending on TD Place this weekend, as the nation's capital welcomes some of the world's best curlers — albeit two years behind schedule.

Ottawa was slated to host the worlds in 2021, but those plans were derailed when the COVID-19 pandemic forced curlers into the mostly fan-free "bubble" in Calgary.

"This was supposed to have happened a few years ago. That's a long wait for something pretty interesting," said Alex Birtwistle, vice-president of the Ottawa Curling Club.

Four men in red jerseys celebrate on a curling ice sheet.
From left to right, Brad Gushue, Mark Nichols and E.J. Harnden celebrate their win at the Brier last month. They'll be seeking revenge at the men's world championship in Ottawa after losing in the final in 2022. (The Canadian Press)

One of the tournament's many volunteers, Birtwistle said she's delighted to be ferrying curlers around to media appearances over the course of the nine-day event.

Getting a chance to meet 2023 Brier champion Brad Gushue — the "hearthrob" of the sport when she was a teenager — would be especially cool, Birtwistle said.

"I'm pretty passionate about curling, so [the worlds are] really ticking all the boxes for me, that's for sure," she said. "I'm pretty excited just to be seeing some great shots and meeting some highly-skilled athletes."

Canada, Sweden rematch?

Many of those great shots will no doubt come courtesy of the Gushue rink, who'll be competing on home ice one year after settling for silver at the 2022 championship in Las Vegas.

They'll have to get past arch-rivals Sweden and their skip, Niklas Edin, whose team has won gold at the last four men's world championships and is both the reigning Olympic champion and the top-ranked rink in the world.

Other teams in contention include Italy (ranked third in the world), Scotland (sixth in the world and Olympic silver medallists), Switzerland (seventh in the world) and the U.S. (the 2018 Olympic champions).

Ticket sales have already exceeded expectations, Curling Canada said in an email to CBC, with Friday night's round-robin rematch between Canada and Sweden on pace to sell out.

South Korean and Canadian curlers square off for a friendly match

6 months ago
Duration 2:28
Ahead of the first world curling championship games this weekend, the South Korean men's team played a friendly match against Canada's top senior's men's team.

An increasingly global sport

Teams have been practicing on sheets around the city this week, including at the Rideau Curling Club, where the South Korean rink recently squared off against Canada's top senior men's team for a friendly eight-end match.

That Canadian foursome — set to head to South Korea later this month for the senior men's world championship — even squeezed out a tight 7-6 win over the South Koreans, ranked 33rd in the world.

"It's amazing to see how [the sport's] taken off. Our senior worlds have 25 countries competing in it," said Chris Fulton, who plays second on the Canadian rink.

"It's really cool to see the globalization of the sport."

A curler throws a rock while another person walks beside them with a stopwatch.
Orhun Yüce, lead for the Turkish men's curling team, throws a rock during practice at TD Place on Friday. The Turkish team is competing in the world men's curling championship for the first time ever. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

The first matches of the world men's championship get underway Saturday at 9 a.m. ET, with the final set for April 9.

As for Akca, he plans to head down to TD Place tonight to watch Turkey make their big first appearance against Japan — and then again later in the week, when they take on his adopted homeland.

"Both matches will be amazing," he said. "I can't wait."

13 teams are in Ottawa for the week to face off in the World Curling Championship. Sweden is the four-time defending champion. Canada received silver in 2022.


Trevor Pritchard

Assignment producer/reporter

Trevor Pritchard is both a digital reporter and the weekend assignment producer at CBC Ottawa. He's previously reported in Toronto, Saskatoon and Cornwall, Ont.

With files from Sannah Choi and Giacomo Panico