Olympic curling tournaments begin at Sochi Games
SOCHI, Russia The focus will be as much on fashion as rocks and brooms when the men's and women's curling tournaments begin Monday at the Sochi Games.
Norway's men's team has put the sport in a different light since the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, where they wowed spectators and global TV audiences by wearing a range of pants with bold, funky Norwegian-inspired prints.
Curling hadn't seen anything like it and the Norwegian men became an overnight sensation, with their attire overshadowing their work on the ice and their silver medal.
The team is back for another shot at gold in Sochi, and curling fans are excited to see what the Norwegians will wear in this Olympic tournament.
In training so far, they've donned knee-length knickers, soccer socks and flat caps and are likely to retain that style for their opening game, against the United States in the evening session.
"I don't think the reaction will be as huge this time as last time," said Norway curler Christoffer Svae. "Last time, we broke a tradition — it was a huge thing. This time, all the build-up to it has been bigger, but I think it will settle down pretty quickly and people will just enjoy watching us."
Norway lost to Canada in the 2010 Olympic final, and the Canadians will be going for a third-straight gold in Sochi. The reigning champions will be led this time by Brad Jacobs, whose team is coming off a breakthrough 2013. He skipped the team to Canada's national championship and breezed through the Olympic trials unbeaten.
Few give their rivals much hope of stopping them. Canada begins round-robin play against Germany in one of four matches in the morning session and will also face Switzerland in the evening.
"To be honest, if we play the way we did at the trials, we'll be tough to beat," said Jacobs, whose leads a team of Ryan Fry, E.J. Harnden and Ryan Harnden.
Sweden's women's team is also bidding for a third-straight Olympic title and will also be under a new skip, Margaretha Sigfridsson, who took the baton from two-time champion Anette Norberg.
The Swedes' first game is against Great Britain and it could prove to be a rehearsal for the final on Feb. 20. They have been the two outstanding women's teams over the past two years and are the favorites.
The U.S. women face Switzerland first, while Canada begins against China, which is coached for these Olympics by Canadian curling great and three-time world champion Marcel Rocque.
Both the men's and women's tournaments have 10 teams. They play each other once in the round-robin stage over the next eight days.