Perhaps they got too big for their britches. After winning the silver medal at the last Winter Olympics in Vancouver, and international fame as well, Norway’s colourful curling characters now say they may give up their sport after losing another critical match in Sochi on Tuesday. That effectively threw them out of further Olympic action.
The team, led by Thomas Ulsrud, was full of confidence heading into the Winter Olympics in Sochi. They’d shown off their new trademark outfits in New York and started off with one victory after another, backed by a new team psychologist, when Olympic action first got underway earlier this month. But then things began to go wrong.
After losing important matches just before and during the weekend, and again on Monday, they simply had to beat Great Britain on Tuesday morning in order to get into the semi-finals. They lost by a score of 6-5, smashing their plan to win Olympic gold in Sochi after snaring silver in Vancouver in 2010.
Now Ulsrud himself says he and his playful teammates will get serious and spend some time thinking about their future.
“We’ll play out the season, and then we’ll go a few rounds with ourselves, (team manager) Pål Trulsen and Olympiatoppen (Norway’s Olympic organization),” Ulsrud, the team’s skip, told reporters after the match.
‘Easier’ for their opponents
Suddenly, Ulsrud didn’t seem to be having fun anymore and complained that his curling competitors live in a different world than he and his fellow Norwegians, who function more like amateurs despite their success in the sport.
“Our opponents get paid by sponsors, their national organizations or the like,” Ulsrud said. “Then it’s easier for them to commit themselves. We practice an hour in the evening after delivering the kids to day care and being at work all day. Our opponents can practice all day instead.”
It may sound like sour grapes from someone who earlier has been flying high and suddenly collided with a bitterly disappointing loss. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that Ulsrud and his teammates were clearly extremely disappointed when they met reporters after the match against Great Britain. They landed in fifth place instead of first, the latest disappointment for Norwegian athletes in general at an Olympics that got off to a great start but has gone downhill in recent days.
“It’s just awful,” Ulsrud said. “I never thought we’d play like this. I thought we’d at least play in the semi-finals.”
‘Did as best we could’
Teammate Christoffer Svae said he thinks Norway’s so-called “curling clowns” played as well as they could, given their circumstances. “Thomas has been paying his own way, and he probably can’t afford to keep doing that,” Svae said. “I don’t have enough to support myself, so have to work as well. The others have normal jobs.” Given the way curling has developed at the international level, he said, “we don’t have a chance to reach any finals in four years if we don’t get any partners who can make it possible for us to play full time, too.”
With that clear appeal for financial backing, the Norwegian curling seemed to back away from their earlier image that they were mostly out to have fun at a sports event that otherwise is taken mighty seriously by athletes and officials alike. Asked whether this was their last Olympics, Svae said: “It can be the last Olympics where there are amateur teams.”
The match itself against the British was called a “thriller,” with opposing skip David Murdoch placing perfectly in the 10th and final round. That secured two points for the British, and the 6-5 victory. Murdoch was predictably thrilled, saying it felt “fantastic,” while the Norwegian prepared to head for home with no medal at all.