International championship curling returns to Scotland, the home of the sport, for the first time since the 2005 Women’s World Championship, when the Le Gruyère European Curling Championships get underway on Saturday 5th of December in Aberdeen.
This event has grown into the largest Championship event on the curling calendar. This year 51 teams from 30 different European countries are competing.
The Championships will be staged at two venues in the city – The Linx Ice Arena will host the men’s and women’s “A” teams, with the “B” divisions at Curl Aberdeen. To stage the event, Aberdeen City Council has invested over £1m in refurbishing and re-opening the Linx Arena, including the installation of state-of-the-art refrigeration plant. Curl Aberdeen, one of the newest privately-owned facilities in Scotland, has been a resounding success since it opened, and will be a fine venue for the “B” teams.
Scotland’s David Murdoch, who is also the current world champion, defends the European title that he has won in the last two years. Among his “A” division rivals will be Norway’s Thomas Ulsrud, losing finalist in the last two European championships. As well as representing their countries in the European Championships, both of these teams are bound for Vancouver and the Olympic Winter Games in February (where the Scots will compete as Great Britain), as are the men’s teams from Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland. The men’s “A” division is completed by the Czech Republic, Finland and Italy.
Six of the women’s “A” division teams are also heading to Vancouver, including defending European champion Mirjam Ott from Switzerland and reigning Olympic champion Anette Norberg from Sweden. The other nations that will also be in action in Canada are Denmark, Germany, Russia and Scotland/Great Britain. The women’s “A” division line-up also includes England, Finland, Italy and Norway.
A further 20 men’s teams are involved in the “B” division, which has been divided into two further sections. One of these sees Bulgaria, England, Estonia, Greece, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Spain compete. The other involves teams from Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Croatia, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Slovakia and Wales.
The women’s “B” teams are also divided into two further groups, one of 6 teams – Croatia, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia and Wales – and the other of five – Austria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary and Spain.
The European Championships double as the European qualifying event for the World Curling Championships. This year, the top seven men’s teams from this event, as well as hosts Italy, will take part in the championships in Cortina d’Ampezzo in April, while the top-finishing eight women’s teams will go onto Swift Current in Canada.
Good performances in the “B” division will bring promotion to next year’s “A” division, with the top two “B” finishers swapping places for next year’s Championships with the last two “A” finishers. In addition, for the overall “B” winners in both men’s and women’s events, there is the added incentive of a best-of-three World Challenge event against the last qualifiers from the “A” group – a potential doorway into this season’s World Championships.
These European Championships will see extensive television coverage across Europe. In particular, Eurosport will broadcast an extensive range of games, both on TV and the internet via the Eurosport Player. For the second season in a row Eurosport will be offering viewers the chance to watch full HD coverage of curling. In addition, BBC will broadcast the men’s final live – the first non-Olympic live curling coverage by BBC for decades.
There will be significant action off the ice too during the Championships week, with both the European Curling Federation and the World Curling Federation holding key governance and strategic meetings that will determine the future organisation, administration and rules of the game.