Saturday, March 18, 2017

The First World Women's Curling Championship

Recognise the curlers on the photo above? This is a photograph of a Swiss women's curling squad, from a promotional postcard, duly autographed by all involved. They were Swiss champions, and about to take part in the first women's world curling championship in 1979. The names of those in the photo (L-R) are Jurg Geiler (coach), Christine Seeger, Rosi Manger, Linda Thommen, Betty Bourquin, and Gaby Casanova (skip). They were from CC Albeina, Basel.

It was of course the team skipped by Gaby Casanova that was to go on to win the Royal Bank Ladies World Curling Championship (as the first world women's event was called), in Perth, Scotland, March 18-23, 1979.

Although the International Curling Federation (now the World Curling Federation) had been formed in 1966, it was not until March 1976 that a woman's voice was heard at ICF meetings. The voice was that of Mabel Margaret deWare, a Canadian politician from New Brunswick, and an accomplished curler, having skipped her team to the Canadian ladies' title in 1963. deWare reported on discussions that had been held between Scottish and Canadian ladies on proposals to launch a Ladies World Championship. According to Robin Welsh (then the ICF secretary, in his book International Guide to Curling, published in 1985), "The meeting agreed that the ladies would try to find a sponsor and then make a formal proposal to the Federation."

Things moved quickly thereafter. In 1977 the ICF approved the formation of a Ladies Committee of the Federation. At Winnipeg in 1978, Canada's Dorothy New, the chair of the Ladies Committee, reported plans to stage the first world women's championship the following year. Frances Brodie was Scotland's representative at that meeting, and she reported that the venue would be Perth, Scotland. Work had been going on behind the scenes, with Frances Brodie and Dinkie Stewart, a popular Edinburgh lady curler, securing sponsorship from the Royal Bank of Scotland, and the Bank's support was soon officially announced. The Royal Bank Ladies World Curling Championship would be held March 18-23, 1979.

Curling, and women's curling in particular, has come a long way since 1979, and with the 2017 Championship currently underway in Beijing, China, I don't imagine that many fans of the sport will be thinking much about what happened back in 1979 in the old ice rink in Perth. But, with the reason that our roots should not be forgotten, here is some information I've gathered together about that 1979 competition.

I am fortunate to have kept a copy of the event programme. It ran to forty-two pages, with the usual welcome messages from the Provost of Perth (Norman Renfrew), the President of the Ladies Branch of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club (Lucy Fleming), the President of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club (Jack Anderson) and the Managing Director of the Royal Bank of Scotland (John Burke).

As well as the competition draw, and the competing teams (see below), Chuck Hay had written a two-page article on 'From Crampit to Hack', Bett Law had contributed two pages on 'The International Scene, and there was a page about Perth by Anne Burgess. There was a poem by Liz Baker, and two pages of cartoons, 'To see ourselves ... as others see us'. The programme was well supported with twenty pages of adverts. It was designed and printed by Sunprint, Perth.

The Local Organising Committee were named as Lucy Fleming (chairman), Frances Brodie, Ella Reid, Ada Craig, Betty Grierson, Dinkie Stewart, Eleanor Howie, Norah Hay, Chris Davidson, Jean Glen, Lesley Stewart, Gail Pollitt and Dorothy Calderwood (secretary). Sheena Gellatly was convenor of the Ticket Committee. Ada Craig was convenor of the Transport Committee. Other convenors were Norah Hay (Entertainment), Jean Glen (Programme) and Betty Grierson (Hospitality). A large number of volunteers were involved.

The eleven participating countries were the same nine which had competed in the 1978 European Championships, plus Canada and the USA. The lineups as shown in the programme were:

Under each team photo with the names was a little biographical information. Here is what accompanied Switzerland's entry in the programme: "The Swiss Ladies' Championship team comes from Basle and this is their first major success. Their average age is 25 years. Gaby, three times Ladies' Regional Champion, is a secretary. Betty, the only married member of the team, is a gold modeller. Linda is a medical student and Rosi is a secretary."

The Countess of Mansfield threw the opening stone on Sunday, March 18. There were two draws that day, and two more on the Monday. On the Tuesday and Wednesday, there were three draws on each day. Five sheets were in use for each draw, with one of the eleven countries sitting out each time. Still, some teams played three games in the one day.

All the results can be found on the WCF's Historical Results pages, see here, although the linescores haven't survived.

The morning of Thursday, March 22, saw the final draw in the round robin. Sweden topped the ranking with eight wins and two losses. Five teams (Canada, Switzerland, Scotland, France, and the USA) all finished on the same 7-3 won-lost record. Two tiebreakers were played to decide the four semifinalists. Scotland beat the USA 6-4 in one of these, and Switzerland defeated France 8-5 in the other.

The semifinals were played on the morning of Friday, March 23. Sweden beat Scotland 8-5 and Switzerland defeated Canada 7-3. In the final the same afternoon, Switzerland (Gaby Casanova, skip, with Betty Bourquin, Linda Thommen and Rosi Manger) beat Sweden (Birgitta Torn, skip), Katarina Hultling, Susanne Gynning-Odling and Gunilla Bergman) 13-5, handshakes offered after eight ends. 

General view of the Perth Rink, with six sheets available for play, and five in use on each draw. No dividers, or carpet walkways in these days! And, horror of horrors, there were even fallbacks in places which made it difficult (apparently) for teams used to playing on perfect ice.

Scotland's Ann McKellar, with Jeanette Johnson and Beth Lindsay behind.

Canada v USA

Switzerland v Sweden in the Final. (Notice the children right at the front!)

Here's a closeup of the two youngsters with the front row seats at the final! Anybody recognise them? Did they go on to become curlers themselves, inspired by what they saw in 1979?

It would be wrong to think that the Championship was played in black and white!

This is the only colour photo of the 1979 event that I know of - on the cover of the Swiss Curling magazine, with Gaby encouraging her front end. I am sure there will be other photos from Perth that year. Surely some spectators had cameras with them. Are there 35mm slides to be found, hidden away in a drawer since then? And does any video exist?

Swiss skip Gaby Casanova raises the trophy aloft. That's lead Rosi Manger on the left. Next to her is Linda Thommen (2nd, with the pins on her jersey), and Betty Bourquin (3rd), on the right, is carrying what appears to be a mascot!

Here's another of the actual presentation, with the trophy being handed first to Rosi Manger, and the team standing in playing order from left to right. 

The same Swiss foursome would go on to capture the European Championship title later that year in Varese, Italy. I find it interesting that the team's promotional photograph, shown at the top of this article, contains their coach (Jurg Geiler) and a fifth player (Christine Seeger). It would be many years before the official championship records began to include the names of coaches and alternates. Incidentally, coach Jurg Geiler had played lead on the Peter Attinger team at the 1974 Silver Broom in Berne.

The first world women's championship was deemed to be a success, on many levels, and soon after the final game, the dates had been set for a second championship, again at Perth, the following year. The Royal Bank kept up its sponsorship in 1980 and 1981. When the competition returned to Perth in 1984, after travelling to Geneva in 1982 and Moose Jaw in 1983, the Bank was once again the sponsor. 

I still think this was one of the most attractive curling trophies ever played for. Scottish wild flowers were hand engraved on a block of Swedish crystal by Harold Gordon of Forres. The trophy came on a mahogany base, into which was set a silver name plate. The trophy was competed for in the early years of the world event, then retired when a new sponsor took over. It lay unused until 1991 when it was redesignated as the trophy for the World Junior Ladies' Championship. However, at some point around the year 2000 it was irreparably damaged, and was then retired for good.

If you have memories of 1979 do send them to me (email opposite), or post in the comments section below. The latter is moderated so comments do not go up immediately.

The promotional postcard of the Casanova squad is from my collection of curling ephemera. The other B/W images are from my archive, or scanned from the event programme. The colour photo of the Swiss Curling magazine cover is from the late Erwin Sautter's book Curling-Vademecum, published in 1993. The action and presentation photos are originally from local photographers Cowper and Co, Perth. The close-up photo of the trophy is by Andrew Wilson Photography, East Claremont Street, Edinburgh.


Matt said...

Fantastic write-up, Bob. Thanks!

- Matt

Joan Gartner said...

Very interesting, thank-you! I went to some games at the Worlds in Moose Jaw, I guess I got tickets from my college...I didn't realize that it was so new at that time!
Joan Gartner
DDO, Quebec