Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A look back at the European Championships 1997

The European Championships twenty years ago were held in Fussen, Germany, December 6-13, 1997. That's the winners, above. The women's champions were (L-R) Elisabet Gustafson (skip), Katarina Nyberg, Louise Marmont, Margaretha Lindahl and Elisabeth Persson from Sweden. Germany won the men's championship: (L-R) Andy Kapp (skip), Uli Kapp, Oliver Axnick, Holger Hohne and Michael Schaffer.

Twenty years may not seem a long time to some, but the intervening years have seen curling change dramatically, that evolution being driven by the sport's inclusion in the Olympic Winter Games. And 1997 was the year before the re-inclusion of curling in the Games as a full medal sport. Many of the teams competing at the European Championships in 1997 would be playing at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Japan.

In 1997, there were places for twelve countries in the main European Championship event in both the men's and women's competitions. Each event had two sections of six, the top four from which would combine to play in quarterfinals.

In the Men's Group A1 were Scotland, Germany, Denmark, England, Austria and the Netherlands. In Group A2 were Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Finland, Italy and Luxembourg.

In the Women's Group a1 were Switzerland, Scotland, Norway, France, Italy and Luxembourg. In Group a2 were Sweden, Germany, Finland, Denmark, Czech Republic and Austria.

There were five countries in what we would now call the men's B Division, trying to make promotion to the A Division for the following year: France, Bulgaria, Wales, Czech Republic and Russia. There were only three women's teams: England, Russia and the Netherlands. More on the B games, below.

The Scottish Men's squad at Fussen is shown above (L-R): James Dryburgh (5th), Douglas Dryburgh (skip), Peter Wilson, Philip Wilson, Ronnie Napier and Alex F Torrance (coach).

All the results can be found here. The Scots beat Netherlands, Denmark, England and Austria, losing only to Andy Kapp's German side in their section games. In the quarters, they played Norway, skipped by Thomas Ulsrud, who had needed a tiebreaker to finish fourth in the other section. According to Leslie Ingram-Brown in his report of the game in the Scottish Curler, Dryburgh played the 'shot of the championships' in the ninth end - an angled triple raise - to count four, whereupon the Norwegians conceded. With that win to reach the semifinals, Scotland was assured a place in the 1998 World Championships in Kamloops.

Scotland lost to Germany 4-2 in the semifinal, Andy Kapp's side going on to win the championship. Dryburgh's side faced Peter Lindholm's Sweden for the bronze medals, and won this game 6-5 with a hit and stay on last stone.

There are no linescores on the World Curling Federation's historical records web pages for this event (here), but the final scores show that Andy Kapp's team, the local favourites, beat Ulrich Schmidt's Denmark 10-5 in the championship match.

This is the Scottish Women's squad. Back L-R: Fiona Bayne (5th), Katie Loudon, Edith Loudon, Jackie Lockhart and Kirsty Hay (skip). In front are Nanette Mutrie (sports psychologist) and Jane Sanderson (coach).

The women came through their section games with wins against Italy, France, Luxembourg, and Norway (skipped by Dordi Nordby), but lost their final section game against Switzerland, despite leading 5-2 at the fifth end. They then faced Sweden's Elisabet Gustafson in the quarterfinals and lost this one to the eventual winners of the tournament.

Although out of the main event, the Scots still had to play two more matches, a ranking game against Joan Reed's England, which only went for six ends, and than a further game to decide 5th/6th place in the rankings. Kirsty's team lost out to Switzerland, skipped by Graziella Grichting, for the second time in the competition. However, sixth in the rankings ensured that a Scottish team would be taking part in the 1998 World Championships.

Sweden beat Germany, skipped by Andrea Schopp, in the semifinal and contested the championship game against Helena Blach-Larvsen's Danes. Gustafson had a three shot lead coming home and duly won her third European title.

In the Men's B Division Wales won four, lost none. France finished with a 3-1 win-loss record, Russian with 2-2, Czech Republic 1-3, and Bulgaria 0-4. These last three countries would take no further part on the competition, but Wales and France still had games to play!

Now, the format of the European Championships changed many times over the years. Back in 1997 it was possible for a B Division team to win the European title that same year. Wales, skipped by John Hunt with Adrian Meikle playing last stones, was able to challenge England, skipped by Martyn Deakin, who had finished their section games fourth in the ranking having won two and and lost three. Wales won this game 7-6, and that gave them the opportunity to play in the quarterfinals. There they met Peter Lindholm's Swedish side, top of the other section, and lost 6-5.

However, I'm sure you will agree that the Welsh team photograph in the official programme shows an elegant squad! L-R: John Hunt (skip and 2nd), Adrian Meikle (4th), Jamie Meikle, Hugh Meikle, Chris Wells.

France too had the opportunity to reach the quarterfinals, but needed to beat Norway to get there. Thomas Ulsrud's team, having already survived a tiebreaker for fourth place in their section, fought off the challenge from Jan Henri Ducroz.

Aside from the semifinals, final and bronze games, further games were played to decide the final rankings of the men's teams in the competition. This was important as the European Championships served then as the qualifying competition for the Worlds, as they still do today. In 1997 the top seven countries in both men's and women's competitions would qualify for the World Championships in Kamloops, Canada.

The results of the games, contested by the losing quarterfinalists, to decide 5th to 8th places were:

Ranking round 1 (which is called, somewhat confusingly on the WCF Historical Results pages, as the 'Relegation game'):
Finland 8 Norway 7
Switzerland 6 Wales 4

5/6 th place:
Switzerland 8 Finland 5

7/8 th place:
Norway 10 Wales 1

So Wales, in eighth place, just missed out on going to Kamloops.

On the women's side, the three countries involved in the B Division finished with the following win-loss records, having played a double round robin: England 3-1, Netherlands 2-2, Russia 1-3. Joan Reed's side then defeated Luxembourg to progress to the quarterfinals.

That's the English ladies above. L-R: Joan Moody (shown here as 5th player, although it was Jacqueline Ambridge, not pictured, who went to Fussen as 5th), Moira Davison, Glynnice Lauder, June Swan, and Joan Reed (skip).

In the quarterfinals they went down 8-2 to Andrea Schopp's German team. Two further losses, to Scotland and Norway, saw them finish eighth in the rankings, just missing out on a place in the 1998 Worlds.

Some Euro trivia from 1997:

1. The local Fussen organising committee comprised Peter Schaffer (President), Charlie Kapp (Vice-president), Christiane Jentsch (General Secretary), Beate Grimm, Roland Jentsch, Rudi Ibald, K-D Schafer and Andy Kapp. 

2. The championships were held in the Bundesleistungszentrum, Fussen.

3. The 1997 European championships were run under the auspices of the European Curling Federation. They are today run by the World Curling Federation, and have been so for some six years now. The history of the ECF, and its demise, is a story still to be written. Not though by me, as I'm not a fan of curling politics!

4. The main sponsor was Augsburger Aktienbank. It would not be until 2002 that Le Gruyere became the title sponsor of the European Curling Championships, an association which continues to this day. 

5. This was the official programme, much of it in German. There were Welcome Messages from Bavarian Prime Minister Dr Edmund Stoiber; the Patron, Dr Irene Epple-Waigel; the Mayor, Dr Paul Wengert; the President of the European Curling Federation, Roy Sinclair; the President of the German Curling Federation Charles Heckman; and from Peter Schaffer, President of the Organising Committee.There were twenty-two and a half pages of adverts in the forty-four page publication.

6. In the days before digital cameras, mobile phones with cameras, and the Internet, it was not as easy as it is today to get team photos to the local organising committee in time for inclusion in the programme. Unfortunately, the 1997 programme does not have photos of Denmark, Finland and Italy men, nor Denmark, Italy and Austria women. However, the French team photo (above) included their mascot, a white cat called 'Puce' ('Chip' in English)!

7. The competition had its own currency, the 'Curling-Euro' which could be used in most of the shops in Fussen.

8. The Finnish women's team had travelled to the North West Castle rink in Stranraer, Scotland, to get some pre-European practice. They asked Gail McMillan if she would coach them in Sweden. Gail, at her own expense, travelled by car and ferry, and collected the team at Munich Airport to finish the journey to Fussen. The Finnish women, skipped by Jaana Jokela, with Anne Eerikainen (aka Malmi) playing last stones, Nina Pollanen and Laura Tsutsunen, with Gail as their coach, reached the semifinals!

Thanks go to John Brown for his help with this article. The photo of the winning teams is by Leslie Ingram-Brown and appeared in the January 1998 Scottish Curler magazine. The photos of the Scottish teams appeared uncredited in the January 1998 Scottish Curler. The images of the Welsh and French men, and the English women are from the official programme, from my archive.

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