Now this is new. Three twenty-something curlers from Winnipeg, MB Canada are pulling a Yuko Kavaguti and opting to defect to Russia in the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. Jason Gunnlaugson, Tyler Forrest, and Justin Richter aren’t bad curlers by any stretch of the imagination, but when you factor in the fact that Manitoba is one of the most competitive curling provinces in Canada, and Canada is the most competitive curling country in the world, it gets a bit tricky. With 70% of the world’s curlers located in Canada, opportunities for young players to compete on a national, let alone international level, are slim. Neate Sager of Yahoo Sports! makes an apt comparison: “Being a young curler there is like being a Triple-A ballplayer who is blocked at his position by an established veteran on the major-league club.” And while Canada certainly appreciates its curlers a bit more than say America does, let’s just say there aren’t sponsors lining up outside of the locker room. Gunnlaugson’s team has been largely self-funded, and they usually spend more money than they make. These guys are hungry, there just isn’t any room at the table.
So what are three young men who live and breathe curling to do when they get shut out at home? Put in a call to good ole’ Mother Russia (and Father Putin), of course. Russia has a history of recruiting foreign athletes and is definitely seeking some redemption after a disappointing showing at the 2010 Vancouver Games. Russia has agreed to sponsor the three Canadians in their quest for international competition in exchange for a little bit of that Canadian curling magic.
Curlers aren’t the only ones heading to Russia for Sochi. The National Hockey League is considering passing on the Sochi 2014 games because they argue that with an 8-hour time difference between the US and Sochi, people would rather sleep or go to work than watch the games. (Yes, dear reader, sadly not everyone shares our enthusiasm). If the NHL decides to continue play during the Olympics, many European athletes have already decided they will defect to play for their national teams anyway. Canadians will leave to defend their gold medal, and Russians will leave because they want to save face on their home turf after the embarrassment of Vancouver. These renegade Olympians would surely throw the NHL’s rosters into minor-league confusion for two weeks and they could face fines and suspension upon their return, but there’s just something about competing for the glory of one’s homeland that makes these threats seem insignificant (…or maybe it’s the six-figure salaries that these players can live off of in the meantime).
Either way, more and more athletes are reversing the talent drain that occurred during the Soviet Union. While there are other benefits to the fall of the USSR, this is certainly a high point.