Curling: Olympic qualification will boost Australia

Australian curlers Laurie Weeden (left) and Ian Palangio practise at the Dunedin Ice Stadium this...
Australian curlers Laurie Weeden (left) and Ian Palangio practise at the Dunedin Ice Stadium this week. Photo by Linda Robertson.
The Australian men's curling team is desperate to grab a spot at the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010.

"Its absolutely critical for the development of the sport," Australian skip Hugh Millikin (51) said yesterday.

"The Olympics change all sport. You can be a world champion in your sport and have very little profile. Getting to the Olympics raises the level of that sport in the country."

Four countries are vying for the last two spots at the Winter Olympics: Australia with 10.5 points, China 9, Denmark 7.5 and Finland 6.5.

"Finland is in the European B pool and must win that and then challenge the bottom ranked country in the A pool," Millikin said.

"Denmark is in the A pool and must finish in the top nine at the world championships in Canada next April to get to the Olympics."

Australia must finish first or second at the Pacific championships at Naseby next week and then finish in the top 10 at the world championships.

Curling is at a critical point in Australia and the country does not have world class rinks. Its team has come to Dunedin and Naseby to train over the last two years.

"Getting to the Olympics will be significant and help us to get our own rink," Millikin said, "There are no dedicated curling facilities in Australia."

There are ice rinks in Brisbane and Victoria but the ice is very poor.

"We don't practise in Australia at all. The ice is absolutely horrible." Millikin said.

"We prefer to go to New Zealand or Europe or Canada," he said.

"We got virtually no funding up until the last two years. Now that we are close to making the Olympics, we get funding from the Olympic Winter Institute which is a branch of the Australian Olympic Committee."

The money is being used to prepare the team for the Pacific and world championships.

"This year we had a training camp in New Zealand and went to Europe for two weeks," he said.

Normally every curler in the Australian team is paying between $5000 and $15,000 a year in expenses.

Some of those expenses were paid by the Olympic Committee this year.

"If we do qualify for the Olympics, the funding will increase and this will allow us to grow the number of curlers in Australia," Millikin said.

There are only 120 active curlers in Australia.

"There are more people interested but no facilities for them to play," Millikin said.

Curling is not yet taken seriously by the media in Australia.

"It is more part of the comedy sketches on television at the moment," Millikin said.

"They have a good time taking us as a bit of a joke. Because we didn't have a team qualify for the Winter Olympics we didn't get any additional coverage."

The Australian women's team does not have any chance of making the 2010 Winter Olympics.

At the Pacific championships last year the Australian men's team finished second to China and the women's team fourth.

Pacific Championships
Australian teams

Men: Hugh Millikin (skip), Ian Palangio, Sean Hall, Steve Johns, Steve Hewitt. Coach Earl Morris.

Women: Kim Forge (skip), Sandy Gagnon, Lyn Gill, Laurie Weeden, Maddie Wilson.


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