Can’t make it to the Sochi Olympics in February to watch women’s curling? No worries. Most of the teams expected to sweep rocks in Russia will be in Vernon in a few weeks.
A smorgasbord of former Olympic and world championships are among the 32 female foursomes in the $40,000 Prestige Hotels & Resorts Curling Classic, Oct. 3-6.
“This is an Olympic year so this will be good practice for the ladies,” said Vernon club manager and Olympic ice-maker Dave Merklinger. “This will be their first competitive action of the season and this is the strongest women’s field we’ve ever had so fans will see some incredible curling.”
Merklinger used his charm and wit to lure 2013 world champion Eve Muirhead of Scotland to the North Okanagan triple-knockout extravaganza.
Muirhead, 23, curls out of the Dunkeld Curling Club based in Pitlochry. She clipped Sweden’s Margaretha Sigfridsson, the previous year’s silver medallist, 6-5 in last year’s world final in Latvia. Muirhead claimed four world junior titles before joining the women’s ranks.
China fan favourite Betty Wang has a love affair with Vernon, where she lost the 2008 Ford world final to Jennifer Jones of Winnipeg. Wang, who turns 29 the day after the classic ends, surprised many by finishing the round-robin in first place at 9-2, including a win over Jones. They beat the Canadians once again in the 1-2 playoff game before dropping the gold-medal game.
Wang won the first-ever medal for a Chinese or Pacific team at the worlds, for either gender.
Switzerland superstar Mirjam Ott has been here several times. The 41-year-old Bern product bagged a bronze medal at the 2008 Ford worlds in Vernon and a gold in 2012, in Lethbridge. Ott snagged silver Olympic medals in 2002 (Salt Lake City) and 2009 (Torino, Italy).
Kelowna’s Kelly Scott, 36, garnered world gold in 2007 in Japan while pocketing a pair of national Scottie’s in Lethbridge (‘07) and London (‘06).
Kelley Law, 47, of New Westminster has been playing the cashspiel for 20 years. Law ruled the 2000 worlds in Scotland. Russia’s Anna Sidorova, 22, is also entered.
It will be a homecoming of sorts for Regina’s Amber Holland, who struck gold in the 1992 national juniors in Vernon.
Holland, 40, has won five provincial Hearts and took silver in the ‘93 world juniors in Switzerland.
Also coming from Saskatchewan is 33-year-old Stefanie Lawton of Saskatoon. Lawton won her second Saskatchewan Scotties Tournament of Hearts in 2009, earning a spot at the 2009 Scotties where she made the playoffs, but lost in the 3 vs 4 game to Jones.
Lawton won her second Canada Cup in 2010, defeating Olympic silver medalist Cheryl Bernard of Calgary in the final.
Bernard, 47, has won the Vernon cashspiel and has entered again along with fellow Calgarian Shannon Kleibrink, always a money maker at the Prestige Classic.
Vernon will be represented by Robbi Kuhn, who made the playoffs in the provincials last year and topped the Victoria Shootout in 2012.
The women’s winner collects $9,000 with the runner-up rink earning $6,500. Week passes are $30 and daily ducats sell for $10.
There are 16 men’s rinks in a triple-knockout format starting Oct. 4 and ending on the Monday afternoon.
Vernon’s Jim Cotter will be among the favourites, especially since adding John Morris (Johnny Mo) in the off-season. Morris played third for phenom Kevin Martin of Edmonton until April, 2013. He will skip for Cotter and throw third rocks.
Defending B.C. champion Andrew Bilesky of New Westminster, Kevin Koe of Calgary, Jamie King and Blake McDonald, both of Edmonton, Team China, Team Japan and T.J. Perepolkin (three-time B.C. junior champion) and Mark Longworth, both of Vernon, are also confirmed.
The men’s winner banks $7,000 with the second-place team taking $5,000.
Meanwhile, the curling club is holding an open house Sunday from noon-4 p.m.
“We welcome everybody, especially beginners,” said Merklinger. “All you need is a clean pair of shoes. We’ll supply the ice and brooms.”
A beginners clinic goes Sept. 23-24 at the club, with Merklinger, Perepolkin and Cotter among the guest instructors. Call the club at 250-542-6713.