U.S. curling coach chills in South Florida

Our own Bill Todhunter is going to Sochi!

Featured on the front page of the Florida Sun-Sentinel:

The quirky game played on ice with rocks and brooms would seem an unlikely fit in a region known for palm trees and beaches. Nonetheless, curling, the quaint sport conceived on frozen ponds in Scotland, has found a niche in South Florida since the last Winter Olympics.

More surprising, one member of the Wednesday night league of the Panthers Curling Club will walk in the Opening Ceremonies for the Sochi Games on Feb. 7. Like the game, Bill Todhunter is relatively new to South Florida. But the Fort Lauderdale resident has been diligently working at it for 40 years to an elite level as a player and now as coach of the U.S. women's Olympics curling team. He started as a teenager in his native British Columbia, and after moving to the United States in 1994, won two national titles and the bronze medal at the 2007 world championships, the last major medal by a U.S. team.

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"People look at the game and think they can do it," said Todhunter, 54, national sales manager for Beghelli, a commercial lighting firm in Miramar. "It's a lot harder than it looks. It's sort of like golf. Everybody thinks they can hit a golf ball. It's a lot more precise when you play at the elite level."That was the perception of many who came to the learn-to-curl sessions at Saveology.com Iceplex after watching the curling matches during the Vancouver Games in 2010. On television, it looked easy. Perspective changed when they stepped on the ice and tried their hands at shoving the 42-pound granite rocks the length of the rink.For those who are intrigued by the telecasts from Sochi, Florida's only curling club will be offering introductory sessions on three consecutive Wednesdays, beginning Feb. 12, 9-11 p.m.Curling has been likened to shuffleboard on ice, with teams of four players trying to maneuver their eight rocks closer than their opponents to the center of a 12-foot circle, or house, 140 feet away. Or, chess with force.

"It's like chess. You may want to forego a pawn to get a rook. Then you have to physically execute it," Todhunter said. He will be occupied with the cerebral side of the game in trying to help the U.S. win its first Olympic medal in curling, tracking tendencies of his team and their opponents that can be used in plotting strategy. The foursome of Erika Brown, Debbie McCormick, Jessica Schultz and Ann Swisshelm was put together two years ago for that objective. They have appeared in a combined seven Olympics, including three by McCormick, who was on the only U.S. team to win the world championships, in 2003. They will become familiar to television viewers with games scheduled eight consecutive days during the round-robin leading up to the medal rounds. CNBC, MSNBC and USA Network will have 124 hours of coverage split between curling and hockey. Curling was regarded as the breakout sport of the Vancouver Games, connecting with TV audiences for its peculiarities, nuances and personalities. The Norwegian men received nearly 1 million Facebook followers immediately after debuting the outrageous pants that became their trademark. Women and men attained sex-symbol status by posing for revealing curling calendars.

"The athletes are getting more in shape, sort of shedding the old beer-drinking, cigarette-smoking curler image. They've become truly athletes. They work at this sport 365 days a year," Todhunter said. Look for Eve Muirhead, 23-year-old skip of world champion Scotland, to be one of the popular faces of these Games as she seeks gold for the birthplace of curling. Scottish to the core, Muirhead has received golf scholarship offers from colleges in the United States and is a competitive bagpiper. Some saucy calendar poses haven't hurt her appeal. The U.S. women showed a lighter side of intense competitors in a hilarious video parody of "What Does the Fox Say?" performed in animal costumes. Their version, "What Does the Skip Say?" is punctuated by the frantic shouts used to direct sweepers guiding the rock down the ice and is receiving thousands of views on YouTube. While Scotland, Sweden and Canada are regarded as front-runners among the women's teams, the U.S. was fourth in last year's world championships, and Todhunter believes they will be in the medal hunt if they play as they did in an impressive victory at the Olympic Trials. In the first game of those finals, Brown, the skip, had 95 percent accuracy on her throws.

"You're not going to lose any curling games when the skip curls 95 percent. That's incredible," Todhunter said. The Americans aim to atone for a disappointing 2010 Games that saw both teams finish last; the men aren't regarded as a medal contender this time, either. Juggling curling and career is a challenge for all of the Americans, unlike some of their competitors who are subsidized to concentrate on the sport. The U.S. women practice separately near homes scattered throughout the Midwest and come together for competition. The Wednesday night league at Saveology.com Iceplex enables their coach to stay involved in an unlikely locale, though the level of competition is recreational. Learn-to-curl sessions will be offered on Wednesday nights during the Sochi Games, and he looks forward to sharing his experiences and expertise upon his return with novices setting their sights on the next Olympics. "That's what I want to do, try to elevate the game here," Todhunter said. "It's a lifetime sport. When I was at the world championships in 2007, I was the second-oldest competitor at 47 competing against 21-year-olds. You can play at the competitive level for a lot of years."



Davis, Craig (2014, January 27). U.S. curling coach chills in South Florida. Sun-Sentinel. Original Article here: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/sports/olympics/fl-curling-olympics-coach-0128-20140127,0,6598295.story