Lefko on Curling: Edin’s win not surprising

Swedens Niklas Edin, left to right, Sebastian Kraupp, left to right, Fredrik Lindberg and Viktor Kjall celebrate their gold medal win over Canada at the World Men's Curling Championship in Victoria, B.C. Sunday, April 7, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

The victory by Sweden’s Niklas Edin in the final of the Ford Men’s World Curling Championships over Canada’s Brad Jacobs shouldn’t have come as any great surprise.

Edin’s team from Karlstad might be the most active squad of any team in the world when it comes to global competition and his country has put him in a position to succeed as part of a plan to do well in next year’s Olympics.

Edin’s team, which beat Jacobs’ Sault Ste. Marie squad 8-6 in Sunday’s final in Victoria, B.C., entered the competition having played in 10 tournaments on the 2012-13 World Curling Tour. Edin’s team began the season playing in the Baden Masters in Switzerland in early September and tuned up for the worlds two weeks before in the Victoria Curling Classic, beating Manitoba’s Mike McEwen in the final. McEwen lost to Jeff Stoughton in the semi-final of this year’s Manitoba provincial. Jacobs beat Stoughton, a three-time national champion, in the final of the Tim Hortons’ Brier.

Edin had been scheduled to skip his team in last year’s worlds, but a wonky back took him out of the equation. Given all that he had done to overcome his chronic back issues, which first flared up at age 10, the 27-year-old Edin has to be commended for his persistence and passion. Aside from knee problems, a bad back is the kind of thing that could easily end a curler’s career.

Edin received the Collie Campbell Award for sportsmanship as voted by his peers in the worlds. He is a likable guy who is well known to his fellow competitors around the world, and not just because of his jelled, spiked hairdo.

The win by Sweden was the first by his country since current national coach Peja (Peter) Lindholm won the tournament in 2004. Lindholm won the tournament three times and it was his decision to stick with Edin despite his back issues that paid dividends. The victory by Sweden over Canada last happened 40 years ago.

Edin’s team will be one of several from the worlds competing in the Players’ Championship, the final men’s $100,000 Grand Slam event, April 16-21 in Toronto. Sportsnet will broadcast the tournament, which will also feature a women’s division.

Edin’s team pulled off the rare double this season, winning the European and World Championship, so if it goes on to win at the Olympics it will have pulled off that rare triple.

But again, Sweden is one of those countries that is putting all of its money into cultivating success. It was seeing Sweden play in the 1998 Olympics, the first year the sport was given full-medal status, that Edin developed his interest in curling. It’s safe to say he was not the only one.

The Olympics changed the way the sport is being played. It is taken far more seriously by the competitors and their countries because of the value of a medal. And it’s the reason Canada is no longer guaranteed of being the best at the sport, even if happens to have the greatest pool of players.

"One of the things that bothers me a little bit is all these countries have one, maybe two, really quality teams, but the quantity doesn’t seem to be there," Canadian men’s coach Tom Coulterman remarked in a conference call before the worlds began. "You look at how many people are curling in all these countries and to me that is a sad state in that respect. The different countries are spending a lot of money on their top teams, looking toward the Olympics especially."

This is a uniquely different process compared to Canada, which goes through a variety of playdowns in which the champion men’s and women’s representatives are determined by qualifying against the best of the best rather than a pre-selection process. Imagine how good Canada could be if it took a team and paid it an annual stipend to curl without having to worry about working a full-time job?

It’s the reason there is a sense of accomplishment rather than entitlement for the Canadian teams when it comes to playing in the worlds. Some countries basically select the same team year to year or pick a squad from a limited roster. In some cases, it’s because the countries are lucky if they have enough players to simply have one good team.

If Canada doesn’t win a gold medal at the worlds, it is considered a disappointment, notwithstanding the fact Jacobs started the playoffs in the fourth and final playoff spot and made it all the way to the final. Unlike the Brier, in which Jacobs’ team ran the table in its final six games en route to scoring its first national championship, it finished one victory shy at the worlds. Given that it was Jacobs’ first try in this tournament and the team showed its inexperience at times, the end result is really not that bad.

For Jacobs, the big question is whether this is his launching point in the world scene or whether it’s a one-and out? At age 27, Jacobs entered the tournament as the youngest skip since Edmonton’s Kevin Martin debuted on the world stage in 1991 as a 24-year-old and also finished second. He won the tournament on his third try, 17 years later and won an Olympic gold in 2010. Martin is still kicking around all these years later as one of the old guard that includes the likes of Stoughton and Ontario’s Glenn Howard.

The only thing that will apparently stop the old guard is old age or a decision to cut back on a heavy competitive schedule. The lure of the Olympics looms large for these wily old veterans, but at some point youth will be served.

Stoughton, Howard and Martin are expected to play in the Players’ because there is big money on the line. Edin will be there because it’s just another chance to play quality teams. Edin’s team made it to the final in the 2011 Players’, losing to Martin, who has dominated the WCT and the Grand Slam, in particular, unlike anyone else.

The worlds is a chance to play for the show, the Players’ is a chance to play for the dough. Then again, some countries are determined to do both, pumping big money into developing battled-hardened teams heading into the Olympics.

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