International curling comes to St. Gallen

  • Switzerland win Bronze at the World Mens Photo © WCF / Michael Burns

There are few nations as prestigious in the sport as Switzerland. Their women’s team won the inaugural World Championships in 1979. The Swiss have won 16 world championships including six mixed doubles titles, where they are the most dominant country. Add that to the 50 medals they have won at the European Championships and there is no doubt that Switzerland has a reputation in curling that most would envy.

Not only have they been one of the best performing curling nations, but they have been trusted in hosting many elite championships. Only Canada, the most dominant nation in curling history, can begin boasting about hosting more championships than the Swiss.

Since 2010, Switzerland have hosted five World Championships, two European Championships, two of the three World Mixed Championships and four World Wheelchair Championships. The trust put into Switzerland as a host has certainly paid off.

Despite Switzerland hosting several tournaments, one of their largest cities has yet to host one. 2017 will see St. Gallen host a championship for the first time. Apart from baroque architecture, wonderful museums and the ever-impressive landscape that you can find in almost every pocket of land, why have the Swiss Curling Association decided to go with this city?

"We always look to consider new regions or cities to spread curling," says Cristina Lestander, administrator for the Swiss Curling Association, "We have a very motivated young crowd who took this initiative to suggest St. Gallen as a host city."

It’s always nice to see a new city for curlers, staff and fans alike, but St. Gallen is more than just a new city. It is in the east side of the country and is close to borders with Germany and Austria and the area is surrounded by beautiful lakes. Cristina believes that there are plenty of reasons to find Switzerland’s new host an attraction in the future.

"The city is a decent size in relation to Switzerland (75,000 people) and most things in the town are in walking distance or only a few bus-stops away.

"Apart from that, the mountains are only an hour away and other cities such as Zurich and Lucerne are 30 to 90 minutes driving distance. To top that off, you can see plenty of lakes all within an hour of the city."

It seems like an ideal winter break for any sporting fan, but St. Gallen is just the tip of what the Swiss Curling Association have done to make their country such a viable option in hosting championships.

"We not only love to host World Curling Championships and European Curling Championships, but we also hear from participants in all tasks that Switzerland is an appreciated country to play big games," says Cristina.

"Our host venues are only a short trip from the airport to the site and our country is very safe with a high standard of accommodation.

"Our cities are easy to get around for the teams with great transport links and our ice and curling facilities are modern. Not only that but our cities are scenic with great climates and great food everywhere."

With one of the finest cuisines in the world, it’s not difficult to see why Switzerland as a destination is so popular. Yet, one of Switzerland’s greatest triumphs is its multi-lingual culture. Natives can speak a combination of French, German and Italian and of course, many of them can speak English, which Cristina sees as a positive for hosting tournaments, "The Swiss organising committees can speak many languages that help the running of the events flow smoothly. In St. Gallen, we will have our great staff from all over Switzerland helping to run the event, as well as the Swiss Curling Association."

The real question that comes to mind is why do they bother? Considering some of the difficulties that nations have had after hosting football World Cups, Olympic Games or World Championships, how do Switzerland stay as enthusiastic about hosting these championships forty years on?

"Hosting big championships such as the European Curling Championships in St. Gallen are regularly held to keep curling known and popular,” “Because of this, we have regular support and therefore success in all of our teams."

Cristina was part of a successful rink in the 1980s which won gold in Moose Jaw at the Women’s World Curling Championships, as well as three European Curling Championships’ bronze medals. Her success, along with many other Swiss athletes, have paved the way for the new generation of curlers to inspire them to become world champions. However, it’s not all about inspiration for the young curlers, there has also been investment.

"We have a good junior development and system to ensure the future of Swiss curling stays strong,” says Cristina, “This, along with our work to keep the sport in the national media as much as we can, help to continue this growth."

And this comes back full circle. The millions of work hours that volunteer in the sport during these events and elsewhere leads to a ‘big family of curlers’ according to Cristina which further improves curling in Switzerland.

Not only are Switzerland among the greatest host nations in the world thanks to its modest size, beautiful scenery and the multitude of languages spoken there; but Switzerland has in turn boosted the popularity of the sport in their country by hosting these championships regularly.

You never know, a future world champion might just be inspired by what they see in St. Gallen over the next few weeks.

To keep up-to-date with all the action from these championships, and the teams’ journey to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, follow us on Twitter, Instagram (@worldcurling) and Facebook (/WorldCurlingFederation) and use the hashtags: #ECC2017 #Roadto2018 #curling

by Michael Houston, feature writer