Is the curling season too long? Many say yes
'I don’t know how they can find the time to do all this,' says veteran skip Glenn Howard
CHATHAM, Ont. — It's a Thursday afternoon and the sun is shining down on this late September day. Curlers are arriving at the St. Clair Campus arena in shorts and t-shirts (some even have sandals on) for the first Grand Slam event of the season.
In a lot of ways it still feels more like a day at the beach rather than the start of the curling season. But this is the new reality for the roaring game.
As curling sky rockets in popularity, bonspiels are being added to the calendar both domestically and internationally at an alarming rate. Take for instance the addition of the inaugural Curling World Cup which concluded earlier this month. The teams of Rachel Homan, Kevin Koe and mixed doubles duo of Laura Walker and Kirk Muyres were on the ice in August practising.
"I've played Labour Day weekend before but never middle of August," Walker said. "Playing early means we may not play our best but we hope to peak at the right time."
Walker and Muyres won gold. So did Koe and Homan. The Canadians didn't seem too phased by the early start. But Walker says they're approaching this season differently because of how long of grind it is now.
"We talk about trying to be smart about our practices. Taking the right amount of rest," Walker says.
"I would love for it to be shorter but I want it to be a professional sport and adding more events right now is the only way for us to do that. There needs to me more events internationally and worldwide."
Watch Canada win inaugural Curling World Cup mixed doubles gold:
There's no turning back now and the curlers know it. Curling season is in high gear now for the next five to six months. Grand Slams, World Curling Tour events, international championships, the Brier, Scotties and don't forget those mixed doubles events now too… it's a lot.
It begs the questions — is the curling season too long?
"I think it's a little too long. A whole bunch of us are still working. I don't know how they can find the time to do all this. If this was the circuit 30 years ago I couldn't play because I wouldn't get my time off work," says veteran curler Glenn Howard.
At 56 years old, Howard understands more than ever the rigours of the game. He says he's amazed at how curling has evolved since he started playing competitively.
"The product is amazing. It's never been this good. It's the best since I've been curling," he admits.
But for as much fun as Howard seems to still be having on the ice, he says it's getting more and more difficult to keep up with some of the teams who are putting everything they have into getting better.
"We don't play as much as these other teams. I just can't do it," Howard says. "I'm more tired than ever. I have to make sure I give myself a lot of rest."
Making time for family
Six-time Scotties winner and 2014 Olympic champion Jennifer Jones is a fiery competitor. She loves being on the ice and when asked if the curling season is too long, she was quick to dismiss any such notion.
"No I don't think so at all. As a mom I would like it to be shorter but if I'm taking that out of the situation, I don't think it's too long at all," Jones says.
The reality for many of the curlers is that they're on the road and away from family for at least half of the year. The travel schedule is demanding and it can take a toll on teams.
"Selfishly I would like to have more time off with my kids," Jones says. "I think I if we want to grow curling, this is what it takes. I don't think it's too long."
Watch Lazy Handle preview curling season with Devin Heroux:
The game of curling has changed. Gone are the days of pot-bellies, beer and cigarettes (that stereotype is way past due). Athletes are more fit than ever, spending their off-seasons working out of the gym and trying to find every advantage over their competition.
But for as fit as the curlers are now, Mike McEwen admits the sweeping, sliding and being on the ice that much definitely takes its toll over the course of a season.
"We have to take care of our bodies better than we've done before," he says.
"I think the season is too long. We don't have the downtime. There's not much of a Christmas break now. The bookends have gotten pushed out and more collapsed into the middle."
It would be an easy fix to just take time off but the reality of curling today is if a team wants to be invited to the Grand Slams and many other events they have to keep their earnings and ranking high — that means playing as much as possible.
"You still can't make enough money to really support yourself. That' the big thing," Jones said.