Sunday, November 27, 2016

More than a new book - it's a celebration of curling

Review by Bob Cowan

The World Curling Federation had its origins with the international committee of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club back in 1966. This soon became the International Curling Federation, and then the World Curling Federation. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary this year, the organisation commissioned a book, and that has now been published. Fifty Years of the World Curling Federation: A Celebration is a wonderful photo essay. It is a celebration, not just of the WCF, but of curling, and illustrates brilliantly how the sport has changed over such a short period.

Fifty years covers my own involvement in curling. In the mid-1960s, curling was already a huge part of my life. But as a student, I had little interest in 'curling politics'. However, I had the opportunity to witness the impact of the early days of international curling, when curling fans in Scotland were quite taken aback by the sliding deliveries and the takeout game brought to Scotland by the Ernie Richardson teams, in the early Canada v Scotland encounters of the Scotch Cup. Curling changed back then. The World Curling Federation was 'born' in 1966. The sport was evolving fast, as it still is today. Students of curling's history will love this new book, as I do, as it encapsulates the changing face of the sport over fifty years.

The cover photo says it all. It is an image from 1978, the closing ceremony of the Air Canada Silver Broom in Winnipeg, with the USA team of Bob Nichols, Bill Strum, Tom Locken and Bob Christman on the top step of the podium, the Americans having just defeated Kristian Soerum's Norwegians in the final. There is not a vacant seat in the arena!

The Silver Broom years were a great time in world curling. The late Doug Maxwell was the executive director of that competition from 1968 through to 1985. I note that the book contains many images credited to the 'Doug Maxwell Archive'.

The new book, appropriately perhaps, was the work of a four man team. Mike Haggerty was the skip, coming up with an innovative approach to presenting the WCF's story in nine chapters: 'From the beginning', 'Governance developments', 'Championship history', 'Rise of women', 'Technical developments', 'What makes international curling special?', 'Characters in the game', 'The Olympic and Paralympic journey' and 'A look to the future'. Mike writes well, confidently and entertainingly. And he has so much experience of covering major international curling events from his first foray to a championship in person back in 1991.

The book's managing editor was Cameron MacAllister, the WCF's Communications and Media Relations Manager. Richard Gray, who looks after the organisation's own photo archive, contributed many of his own images from recent years, as well as collating others from many sources. This was a huge job - there are more than 350 photos in the book! Much credit must go the the book's designer, Douglas Colquhoun. He lets the photographs tell the story. Some are quite small, some occupy a whole page. Older black and white images sit comfortably beside modern colour images. The former represent the days of film, that being developed in small rooms at championship venues, often by Michael Burns, the official Silver Broom photographer, whose images feature prominently throughout.

And Michael Burns is featured in the book, above. Note that this photo has a detailed caption, but that is not the rule in the book.

Here, for example, is a page with simply a montage of photos to illustrate 'The Spirit of Curling'. Not a caption in sight. As someone who so often preaches that a photograph is incomplete without a caption, I was surprised to find myself approving of the caption-less approach in many parts of the book. It really works!

Here's another example page, with a single image. Not stated is that it is Ron Anton, 3rd player for Team Canada in 1974, in the foreground, although that is irrelevant to the point that the image conveys.

The book documents all the main events and challenges that our sport has faced over the years, and this is done in an attractive way. Such an 'anniversary book' could so easily have turned into a dry tome. It is definitely not that! It is not a book of championship facts and figures, which in any case can be easily viewed on the WCF website, under 'Historical Results'.

I especially liked the chapter on 'What makes international curling special', including pages on how the sport has been covered by the media in the past and present. Of course the formation of World Curling TV in 2004 was such a significant development, and the visual coverage of our sport online these days, enjoyed by so many, is one of the WCF's greatest achievements.

This being a review, I searched hard to find something - anything - to criticise. I have only found a couple of minor slips. The text is tight and there are few typos that I can see. The first women's junior championship was in 1988, not 1998 as it says in error on page 29.

An important omission, in my opinion, is that there is no mention of the role of volunteers, especially in the organisation and staging of major international events.

I would also have liked to have seen at least one photo showing the delivery of a curling stone from a chair using the cue. The 'delivery stick' is what really makes wheelchair curling possible, as well as extending the curling lives of many social curlers.

In one chapter, the book strays away from the '50 Year' story to the first Olympic curling in 1924 at the Chamonix International Winter Sports Week, retrospectively recognised as the first Olympic Winter Games. Being the pedant that I am, I should point out that the first international 'Curling Congress' was held on January 22, a few days before these Games were due to begin, rather than during the games as Mike writes in the book. This group, described in my article here, convened at the Hotel Majestic in Chamonix to decide, amongst other things, how that first Olympic curling competition should be run!

In the description of the events of 1924, on page 75, I found one photograph which should not have appeared in the book. It is described with the caption 'Curling at the first Olympic Games', which technically may be quite correct, but the included photograph has no relevance to the actual Olympic curling matches. It originates from the IOC archives, see here, where it is described as 'Curling in Chamonix - The Swedish and British teams. Chamonix 1924 - During the events. The Swedish team (SWE) 2nd and the team of Great Britain (GBR) 1st.' This description is in error.

The photo actually shows three of the British reserves, with four players from the Swedish squad, and a 'mystery woman'. No women took part in the Olympic curling in 1924. I wrote about this odd photo here. The evidence points to this being a fun game, which took place on the Chamonix rink, after the official matches had taken place. The mystery woman could be Karl Erik Wahlberg's wife or daughter, or Carl August Kronlund's daughter, who were among Swedish supporters who travelled to Chamonix. I was disappointed to see this photo included in the new book, after it had previously been debunked! Still, until the IOC corrects its description, it will no doubt continue to appear in sports' publications.

The photo that should have been included in the WCF book is this one, showing the winners of the first Olympic Gold Medals for curling. L-R: Willie Jackson (skip), Tom Murray (2nd), Laurence Jackson (lead) and Robin Welsh (3rd), representing GB.

Minor criticisms aside, this is a book which rates as a most significant contribution to the curling library! It will undoubtedly be seen in future years as a resource to be cherished. Books about curling's history are rare things. This is amongst the best ... ever!

The official description of the book, see here, has, appropriately, been put together by Jolene Latimer and Jeffrey Au, the latest competition winners of the WCF Sports Media Trainee Programme. This programme itself is just one example of the innovations that the WCF has brought to the sport in recent years, away from the organisation of international competitions.

There is a hard back edition, and a soft cover. It cannot be purchased from retailers. If you want to have the book for your own library or coffee table, you need to contact the WCF headquarters in Perth. Or you can download pdf files of the book, to peruse on your computer or tablet. Find these here.

Current WCF President, Kate Caithness OBE, hosted the book's launch at the WCF headquarters in Perth last week. Here she is with Roy Sinclair, a former President, 2000-2006.

L-R: Richard Gray, Douglas Colquhoun, and Mike Haggerty. A job well done!

Incidentally, this is the team that puts together the WCF's excellent Annual Review each year. The 2015-16 edition of this can be downloaded here.

On a personal note, in just a few days time it will be one year since David Smith died. I have continued this Curling History website in his memory. He had an extensive collection of curling books. He too, I'm sure, would have loved this new book.

Photos are by Bob, except that of the rogue IOC image, and that of the 1924 Gold Medallists, which is from the 1924-25 Annual of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. Other images from 1924 can be found in my articles about the Chamonix Games, here, here, here, here and here. Lars Ingels has been extremely helpful in trying to establish the identity of the 'mystery woman'.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Great news. Where can we buy it.