Israel’s delegation to the first-ever Mixed World Curling Championship.
(photo credit: ISRAEL CURLING FEDERATION)
The scenery in Berne, Switzerland, was a stark contrast to the heat and dust the Israeli National Curling Team left behind at Ben Gurion airport. The thought of throwing rocks down a sheet of ice was an afterthought for the four Olim that comprise this mixed gender curling team that hails from Toronto, Michigan and Nevada.
Toronto natives Shiri Sone and Andrea Stark started the process of making Aliya through Nefesh’B’Nefesh’s office in their hometown Toronto.
“We started this process about a year ago with Nefesh and we haven’t looked back since” says Sone. “The timing was going to be just right if everything was to work out and all the pieces began to fall in place” added Stark referring to the World Curling Federation’s announcement of the first-ever Mixed World Curling Championship.
“In terms of finishing the process in Canada and the announcement of this inaugural event, it just couldn’t have been scripted any better” stated Israel Curling Federation Secretary General Sharon Cohen.
Stark and Sone were joined by Israeli curling veteran Yaakov Lutz and newcomer and fellow new immigrant, Larry Sidney.
Lutz helped guide Israel to a silver medal in the 2014 European Championships Group C, while Sidney is an extreme sports enthusiast that also competes for the Israeli skeleton team, another Winter Olympic sport similar to bobsled, but where you slide head first down the ice on a small sled.
The field of 36 teams was divided into four groups of nine, with the top three teams from each group advancing to the playoffs.
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Israel found itself in one of the toughest groups with some of the World’s top curling nations – Canada, Germany and Norway. The other teams in this “group of death” were Latvia, Australia, Spain, Finland, and Wales.
While the mixed team event is not an Olympic discipline, the hope is that it will soon join Mixed Doubles on the Olympic card. Thanks to the popularity of curling in the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi the International Olympic Committee voted this Spring to add Mixed Doubles (two players instead of the traditional four players) to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Curling is considered one of the fastest- growing winter sports and as such the push will soon be to add the mixed team discipline to the Games as well.
The Israeli curlers came away from their group with just a single win versus Wales, but played the top three teams in the group (Germany, Canada, and Norway) extremely tough, even taking the eventual gold medal winners, Norway, to an extra end.
“We really wanted to make our mark and come out strong, Lutz said. This is a new team that has no competitive experience together on the ice but we still remained optimistic.”
The team trained together for the first time this past summer in Canada and looked to gel on to the ice.
“The competition in our group was fierce and for us to be competitive against those teams and come away from this event having earned the respect of the curling World is a huge accomplishment for our Federation and for the growth of curling in Israel” added Cohen.
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