Curlers glide into Las Vegas for pre-Olympic competition

/ Las Vegas Sun

Sweepers try to position their stone during the first day of the 2014 World Financial Group Continental Cup of Curling at the Orleans Arena Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014. Of the twelve teams competing from around the world, nine of them will represent their respective country at the upcoming Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

WFG Continental Cup of Curling

Satsuki Fujisawa yells instructions to her sweepers during the first day of the 2014 World Financial Group Continental Cup of Curling at the Orleans Arena Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014. Of the twelve teams competing from around the world, nine of them will represent their respective country at the upcoming Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Launch slideshow »

In three weeks, some of the best athletes in the world will be gathering in Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.

But this weekend, 36 of them will be in Las Vegas to compete in their Olympic sport — curling — for the 2014 World Financial Group Continental Cup.

While Southern Nevada will never be mistaken for a winter sports hub and some could argue that any athletic event involving a broom can't really be a sport, it's true that some of the best curlers in the world will be competing at the 9,500-seat Orleans Arena thanks to the diligence of the organization that has worked for more than eight years to bring the Winter Olympics to the Lake Tahoe region.

Curling, a sport that has its roots in 1500s Scotland but has been embraced by Canada, is played by teams that slide a thick stone disc weighing about 40 pounds more than 100 feet on a narrow ice sheet to a 15-foot circular target. Teams can alter the course of the sliding stone by sweeping the ice with special brooms. The game is played and scored like shuffleboard.

The sport has a cult following and there are club teams that play it in Las Vegas.

The World Financial Group Continental Cup is a Ryder Cup-style competition in which the best curlers from North America will compete against players from the rest of the world. The fact that this year's competition will almost serve as a preview to the Olympic curling tournament that begins Feb. 10 is a bonus.

It's the first time the Continental Cup is being staged outside Canada. It's being televised in Canada on English and French networks.

Ten draws, three each today, Friday and Saturday and one on Sunday, are scheduled on three curling sheets set up on the ice at the arena. Organizers say ticket sales have been brisk, but there are still seats available for each draw.

It's difficult for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority to estimate how big the economic impact would be on Southern Nevada given that there's no historical database and many of the most ardent curling fans are already in Las Vegas this time of year as seasonal snowbirds.

Still, the Canadian Curling Association, the U.S. Curling Association, the World Curling Federation and the Reno Tahoe Winter Games Coalition, which jointly announced bringing the event to Las Vegas more than a year ago, are enthused about the prospect of elevating curling in the public eye in such a high-profile setting.

"Las Vegas is one of the iconic destinations in the world," World Curling Federation President Kate Caithness said when the event was first announced. "The World Curling Federation and its partners, the World Financial Group, the Canadian Curling Association and the U.S. Curling Association, are thrilled to be able to showcase the sport of curling and its top international players in such a high-profile location just ahead of the 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games."

"The World Financial Group Continental Cup continues to build momentum and demonstrate its special place in the sport of curling," added Greg Stremlaw, CEO of the Canadian Curling Association. "We felt that this would be a great profile for the sport with some of the world's greatest curling athletes coming to Vegas only weeks before the 2014 Olympic Winter Games."

When the U.S. Olympic Committee announced in summer 2012 that the United States would not bid to host the Winter Olympic Games in 2022, Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki vowed to continue to try to attract world-class winter sports events to the state.

Krolicki, who chairs the Nevada Tourism Commission as lieutenant governor, had given frequent updates at commission meetings on the state's efforts to team with California to bring the Winter Olympics to Lake Tahoe in 2022.

In July 2012, the coalition learned that the U.S. Olympic Committee made a decision not to bid for the 2022 Games, which insiders perceived as an effort to focus its full attention on securing the 2024 Summer Olympics in the United States.

The Olympic Committee was bitterly disappointed that it lost the bid to bring the 2016 Summer Games to Chicago. Those games were awarded to Rio de Janeiro.

While groups in Northern Nevada had worked to bring the Olympics to Lake Tahoe, there were no assurances that it would even win the U.S. nomination. Other proposals were made for those games by Denver, Salt Lake City and Bozeman, Mont.

The International Olympic Committee awarded the 2020 Games to Tokyo, the first Asian city to host the event more than once.

When the Lake Tahoe Winter Olympics bid proposal was in play, there were discussions about having the curling competition in Las Vegas. While the Olympics won't be coming to Nevada, winter sports enthusiasts concur that hosting the Continental Cup is a major coup for the state because thousands of people will be traveling to Las Vegas for the event.

Most international visitors to Las Vegas come from Canada. Three Canadian airlines average 17 daily flights to and from 11 Canadian cities.