By Andrew Mitchell
Picabo Street remains one of the best known American speed skiers of all time, but can she curl?
Same question goes for Olympic speedskater Dan Jansen, who will be on the curling team opposite Street when NBC hosts the Korbel Elite Curling Challenge in Whistler on Nov. 18.
The event, which is sponsored by Korbel Champagne Cellars, will be broadcast the following Sunday, Nov. 26 during the American Thanksgiving Weekend in the prime 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. timeslot.
According to Oliver Flaser of Tourism Whistler, the event came about when RMOW manager of strategic alliances John Rae was volunteering during the Torino Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. On his way to the curling centre at Pinerolo he met with Rick Patzke, the CEO of the U.S. Curling Association, and discussed the idea of hosting an event that showcases American curling as well as the upcoming 2010 Winter Games. At the time Meadow Park Arena was slated to hold the Paralympic Curling competitions, which have since been moved to Vancouver, along with the sledge hockey events.
A few months later Patzke called to follow up and propose the Korbel Elite Curling Challenge.
“One of the senior vice presidents at NBC was very interested in the curling aspect, and threw some weight behind it,” said Flaser, director of marketing for Tourism Whistler. “The amazing thing is that it will be shown on that afternoon timeslot on the Thanksgiving weekend, which is one of the biggest television days in the U.S. We’re anticipating a reach of five million viewers.”
Events Whistler, a partnership of the municipality, Tourism Whistler and Whistler-Blackcomb, will be providing the curling venue at Meadow Park, as well as a broadcast studio in the Roundhouse Lodge. The game will be called by Don Chevrier and Don Duguild, who covered the American teams in Torino, while Elfi Schlegel will be the sideline reporter.
The curling match will be the focus of the show, but it also presents an opportunity to showcase Whistler in the lead-up to the Olympic Games, says Flaser.
One of the priorities in the next two weeks is to ensure that the stands are filled for the event, and making sure Meadow Park is retrofitted to host the competition. An ice expert from the prairies is being flown in to get the competition ice sheets up to tournament standards.
“It’s really a made-for-TV event,” said Flaser.
The format is an eight-frame curling game that matches Street with the reigning U.S. women’s champion team, taking on Jansen and the reigning men’s champions.
Street is a three-time Olympian and Olympic gold medalist in super G, but had her career cut short by a knee injury. Her teammates include two-time Olympic curler Debbie McCormick, Nicole Joraanstad, Natalie Nicholson and Tracy Sachtjen.
Jansen’s teammates are the Olympic bronze medal team of Pete Fenson, Shawn Rojeski and Joe Polo, along with newcomer Doug Pottinger. Jansen was the first man to break 36 seconds in the 500 metre speedskating event, and was a member of four Olympic teams before winning gold in 1994.
At stake in the contest is bragging rights, some prize money, and champagne from Korbel Champagne Cellars.