Get a look at curling's calendar girls
Scotland skip Eve Muirhead is cover girl for the 2012 Women of Curling Calendar. (TODD KOROL/Reuters file photo)
Don't think for a second that curling isn't serious business.
Consider the facts. It's been an Olympic medal sport since 1998, there are more than a million recreational players around the world and there are thousands of leagues and bonspiels (tournaments) ongoing every day.
Many of the game's best athletes are just that - athletes - armed with sponsorship dollars and federal funding which allows them to train and compete full time. Televised events like the Brier and Grand Slam of Curling series cost millions to produce and deliver millions of eager eyeballs.
Heck, it's still early October, but the Roaring Game has probably been mentioned at least once in nearly all recent Sun sport sections.
And now for our first item of this very serious 2011-12 curling season: the latest Women of Curling Calendar!
They are back, 12 female curling stars from five countries in a pose-down for charity. Each female rocker shows off three images while also showing off each particular month of curling events, which are listed and colour-coded by gender and event type. Yes indeed, this a real curling calendar.
Scottish curling hottie Eve Muirhead graces the cover. Proceeds go to the Canadian Spinal Research Organization's "Shoot For A Cure" fundraising program.
The product is on sale now at: womenofcurlingcalendar.com.
"I was asked to pose last year, but it was a rush job and the photos weren't up to quality," said Muirhead, who boasts over 7,500 fans (most of them male) on Facebook.
"I definitely wanted to take part this year - so we went to an old castle nearby, and got it done right."
The 21-year-old Scot, a five-time world junior champion, Olympian and world silver-medallist, is currently touring Canada. Her youthful women's team failed to qualify for Monday's Grand Slam playoffs in Calgary, and is now en route to another World Curling Tour stop in Medicine Hat, Alta.
Most international curling athletes enjoy their notoriety - dare we say fame - while traveling in Canada, and remain mostly anonymous at home. Not so for Muirhead, who makes news all the time.
When she was chosen as an Athlete Role Model for the inaugural Winter Youth Olympic Games taking place in Innsbruck, Austria early in the New Year, the story immediately made the rounds.
The all-star golfer and bagpipe player (seriously) recently competed in a regional golf tournament and was stung in the face by a wasp. Scottish newspapers breathlessly reported on her trip to hospital - she had an allergic reaction - and her "race against time" to be fit in time for a curling event in Oslo, Norway.
"It can be kind of funny sometimes, but the sport is getting great press at home and that's what is important," said Muirhead.
"I expect this calendar cover will cause a bit of a frenzy," she laughed.
Joining Muirhead in the calendar are fellow Europeans Cissi Ostlund of Sweden, the defending world champion third for skip Anette Norberg, and Russian women's team mainstay Ekatarina Galkina, who is also on tour with her teammates in western Canada.
Regan Mizuno of San Francisco represents the United States (by way of Saskatchewan) and the remaining eight athlete models are Canadian:
- Shannon Aleksic, Vancouver
- Sonja Gaudet, Kelowna
- Kalynn Park, Edmonton
- Kaitlyn Lawes, Winnipeg
- Laura Crocker, Kitchener-Waterloo
- Emma Miskew, Ottawa
- Jill Mouzar, Toronto
- Heather Smith-Dacey, Halifax
HOWARD YOU DOING?
The new curling season is already into week seven and some patterns are developing - some louder than others.
Wayne Middaugh now plays third for Ontario stalwart Glenn Howard, after longtime Howard third Richard Hart retired over the summer. Hart's decision stunned the curling world, just as the green jerseys the new Team Howard are wearing this fall have stunned this writer. The Howards have lost in the quarters and semis of their first two tour curling events, so there is plenty of time for the new lineup to gel.
New lineups abound for a number of squads. Brad Gushue's Newfoundland gang has imported former world junior competitors Adam Casey (from P.E.I.) and Geoff Walker (from Grande Prairie, Alta.) to complement previous Winnipeg import Ryan Fry.
Edmonton's Randy Ferbey is back, again, along with faithful David Nedohin on last-rock duties. The much-decorated Brier and world-champion duo have a young-ish Ted Appelman and Brendan Melnyk at front end, but it will take some serious concentration for the 50-something Ferb to go hard for a 2014 Olympic berth.
On the women's side, there are significant changes in Calgary as Vancouver 2010 Olympic heroine Cheryl Bernard has welcomed a new front end, and rival Crystal Webster has imported not one but two spuds from P.E.I.
Team Shannon Kleibrink has excelled so far, with the skipper not actually playing - she's recovering from surgery.
Winnipeg looks a bit different with Ashley Howard - daughter of legend Russ - attending school and throwing stones with Team Cathy Overton-Clapham, who won the first women's Slam crown of the season.
Same goes for Winnipeg's Team Jennifer Jones, which sees second Jill Officer sidelined due to pregnancy and Quebec veteran Jo-Elle Sabourin pinch-hitting on occasion. So far, with two different lineups, the Jones gang has won a tour event in Norway outright and then failed to qualify in Calgary.
The Kevin Martin (Edmonton) and Jeff Stoughton (Winnipeg) teams are unchanged, as are women's teams captained by Ontario's Rachel Homan and Sherry Middaugh.