City welcomes curlers

Excitement has been building since the 2012 Scotties Tournament of Hearts, which kicks off this weekend at the Centrium, was announced for Red Deer last year.

Ticket sales have been strong as curling enthusiasts prepare for a week of top-notch sport. This isn’t the first time this popular event has been held in Red Deer.

The City played host to the Tournament of Hearts back in 2004, and memories from that successful stint are still plentiful. The event helped bolster Red Deer’s profile both in the national curling community but also within the provincial and national sporting world as well. Red Deer is an ideal place for the Tournament, with its proximity to Calgary and Edmonton and unbounded supported for such events as well.

There is no doubt curling has a way of bringing people together, and it’s not just an appeal that is confined to avid sporting enthusiasts. Curling fans are among the most loyal and dedicated ones around – this will no doubt be seen this week at the Centrium especially once the final rounds begin.

The sport itself has certainly come into its own, and rightfully so.

Curling is one of the major sports in the country with over one million Canadians taking part every year. It is also popular among television viewers with a reach of more than three million for the Scotties championship final.

More than 11 million adult Canadians will watch curling on television this winter, representing more than a third of all Canadians.

Looking back, at the 1988 winter Olympics in Calgary, curling was a demonstration sport.

The Canadian Women’s team captured the gold medal. Four years later, Julie Sutton’s team from Victoria, the winner of the 1991 Scotties Tournament of Hearts, represented Canada at the Olympics in France, bringing home a bronze.

Finally, in 1998, curling was deemed a full medal sport in the Nagano, Japan Olympics. Not surprisingly, Canadian women shone with Regina’s Sandra Schmirler, the winner of the 1997 Scotties Tournament of Hearts, capturing gold.

It’s fitting that today the Sandra Schmirler MVP Award is presented to the top curler in the playoffs of Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Schmirler died of cancer at age 36 in 2000. She had won an incredible three Canadian and world titles and an Olympic gold medal.

The women’s teams also captured the bronze at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and again in 2006 at Turin, Italy. The Scotties Tournament of Hearts experience appears to be a common ingredient in helping to pave the way to Olympic glory.

It’s no surprise then that the event attracts such a following every year – a gift to whatever community finds itself fortunate enough to play host.

There’s no doubt that beginning this weekend, all eyes will be on Central Alberta as the 2012 Scotties Tournament of Heart gets underway.