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17 Oct, 2010 11:30

Canadians to turn Russia into curling powerhouse

The president of the Russian Olympic Committee has turned his hand to curling this weekend to boost interest in the sport as the country searches for talent, ahead of the next Winter Olympics in Sochi.

In countries like Canada, Sweden and Norway, curling has been a national sport for hundreds of years, attracting thousands to stadiums and gluing millions to their TV sets.

Therefore it is no surprise that those nations are leaders in the Olympic medals count.

According to a poll conducted by the Russian Curling Federation, 90 per cent of the population in the biggest country on Earth is not even familiar with this winter discipline; a statistic which is in desperate need of alteration, especially ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia's Black sea resort of Sochi.

“Curling is 500 years old, while in Russia it was established only 20 years ago. Thanks to enthusiasts it's still alive here today,” Dmitry Svishchev, president of Russia’s curling federation, said. “The new curling federation has set two goals for the near future. First is obviously to win medals in Sochi because it will be our home Winter Games; And second, to make curling available to the masses. At the moment we only have 400 people actively participating in this sport and that needs to change.”

An amateur tournament, held in the newly built curling center in Moscow is just one example of popularizing this sport.

The President of the National Olympic Committee, Aleksandr Zhukov, took it upon himself to introduce it to the masses in Russia.

However, this is just a first step towards possible future Olympic glory, as more drastic measures need to be taken if the country wants to triumph at the upcoming Winter Games.

Established foreign talent is said to help Russian curlers raise the competition bar in domestic tournaments. Currently, an experimental national team includes three Canadian curlers and a coach.

“Canadian athletes and experts that we have invited will help the progress of Russian curlers. If they want to become naturalized citizens of this country, well, it's their right to do so. Of course we have plenty of talented athletes and coaches here but curling is a new discipline for us and I hope that the elite of curling will help us raise top athletic and coaching talent,” Aleksandr Zhukov said.

Despite being a novice in curling, Russia has already made an impact on the international circuit, winning gold at a domestic world cup this year and a European silver back in 2006.

Olga Zharkova was a part of that team and now she is active in the curling federation as its vice president.

“I hope that with new facilities like this we’ll be able to achieve good results. And we are going to open even more good arenas and ask some advisers to join our team and help us with development of sport,” she said.

Curling is probably as exotic to Russians as ice hockey to South Africans. However, if Russia wants to win any medals at the next winter Olympics in Sochi, and the country is gunning for gold to say the least, this sport needs to get into the masses as soon as possible.