Why does Vernon Davis love curling? ‘It just grows on you’

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SOCHI, Russia – Sunday provided a unique Olympic experience – watching curling with Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis.

Davis arrived for his second Winter Games as USA Curling’s honorary captain on Friday and has been taking in the U.S. men’s team games at the Ice Cube Curling Center.

He arrived about 20 minutes after bagpipers opened play Sunday night. Davis took a seat about 20 yards from the round-robin play action on an elevated press row. He stood out, of course, wearing a black San Francisco 49ers Foundation jacket, an official Olympic credential and several Olympic pins, including a Guatemalan one. He barely took his eyes off the ice.

“It’s like watching my kids play, watching my son play,” Davis said. “I’m not playing, but I have a relationship with these guys. I want them to win.”

The open-minded Davis learned about curling from a 49ers beat writer before the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, gave it a try and took to it.

Within weeks, USA Curling found out and extended the honorary captain offer.

“I’m open to try new things and different things,” Davis said. “I find it fascinating.”

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Davis’ role the past four years has been to promote awareness for a sport that’s gained a cult following at the last four Winter Games, but still has plenty of room to grow in the U.S. (Hawaii became the 45th state to host a curling event in October.)

On Sunday, he played analyst for two reporters as U.S. skip John Shuster and his team faced Sweden. Davis was a natural.

He talked peels, guards and shoe covers for about 45 minutes. He peered across the ice and gestured just like the curlers about positioning.

A telestrator would have come in handy.

“You have to know when to use finesse and when to use strength,” Davis said. “It’s a thinking game. You have to be strategic and come with a good plan to execute to be able to dominate your opponent.”

His passion for curling was evident as he predicted how shots would be played.

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“At first it took me a while to figure out the reason for the sport,” Davis said. “I’m like, ‘Is this really an Olympic sport?’ I needed some answers. I had a lot of questions, technical stuff.

“Once you find out what’s going on in this game, it just grows on you.”

He curls for fun in San Jose, joining “random people” for games. Davis has his own USA Curling jacket with “V. Davis” on the back. The V will keep people from confusing him for U.S. speed skater Shani Davis as they did at the 2010 Olympics.

“The only thing I don’t have is my own stone,” Davis said. “They said they’re going to send me one. They sent me two brooms.”

He sees plenty of parallels between his primary trade and his new hobby.

“[In football] you have to really use your mind, set your opponent up in a way that you can gain leverage and beat him and beat him easily,” Davis said. “That’s the way it is with curling, coming up with a plan, setting up your defense, curling your stone, knowing when to use strength and when not to.”

Davis said his 49ers teammates questioned how serious his commitment was. They asked: “Why curling?”

“There’s no NFL player that promotes curling but me, which is pretty cool,” said Davis, who thinks he can persuade Frank Gore to join him on the ice. “It shows that I’m different and am willing to open up and do something different.”

The Olympics and the Super Bowl, where Davis played last season, are very similar, he said.

“They’re both enormous, everyone’s there, everyone wants to be involved, whether it’s sponsorship or just coming to support,” said Davis, who watched 1996 Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes and 1992 Olympic bobsledder Herschel Walker growing up. “Tons of people there, entertainers, you name it. From a marketing standpoint, it’s huge.”

Davis’ early tour of Sochi included a visit to USA House, a photo in front of the Olympic cauldron and a mob scene when he ate a cafeteria and was swarmed by about 30 people. He also scored a ticket to the U.S.-Russia hockey game Saturday.

“I get a chance to go to [San Jose] Sharks games,” Davis said. “It’s nothing like what I saw yesterday.”

A highlight was talking shop with Shuster on Saturday, learning about how the curlers game plan. Again, it equates to football.

“At the snap of every ball, before I take off the line of scrimmage, I need to really think, I need to really focus,” Davis said. “Their focus is the same focus that I need to have before I release off the line of scrimmage.”

How committed is Davis to raising curling’s awareness?

He wants to go to a third Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018, and wouldn’t rule out becoming competitive in the sport once his football career ends.

“The Winter Olympics, when everyone hears curling, they’re thinking … oh, Vernon does that,” he said. “It makes people want to look at it. They want to get involved. They want to see what’s going on. They want to learn more about it. They’re on the Internet, Googling curling, trying to find out about it. Which is a pretty good thing.”

Sweden drops 2026 Winter Olympic bid

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The city of Stockholm says it won’t bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics.

Karin Wanngard, the city official in charge of finances, says the reason is because the International Olympic Committee will not be able to report how big the financial contribution to the host city will be.

She says the figures “will arrive at the earliest in November.”

The Swedish lawmaker, whose Social Democratic Party had been supportive of hosting the event, adds “this means that time will be too short to get enough analysis for the issues raised by several actors.”

The Swedish capital, which hosted the 1912 Summer Olympics, has never staged the Winter Games. The cities of Ostersund, Falun and Goteborg all have mounted failed winter bids.

The news comes six days after the Swedish Olympic Committee named a CEO for the 2026 bid.

In January, the committee said that Stockholm staging the 2026 Winter Olympics was “possible and desirable” and that a formal bid was expected in March 2018.

In 2015, Stockholm pulled out of the race for the 2022 Winter Games after Swedish politicians refused to give financial backing. Swedish politicians were uncomfortable because of concerns over costs, the environment, post-Games use of venues, the environment and other issues.

The early 2026 bid plan called for 80 percent of the events in Stockholm, while most of the Alpine competitions would be in the northern resort of Are, more than 600 kilometers (400 miles) from the capital. A few skiing events would be in Falun, 215 kilometers (130 miles) northwest from there.

The 2026 Winter Olympics have one bidder — Sion, Switzerland.

Cities in Austria, Canada, Japan and have also discussed potential 2026 bids, as has Lillehammer, Norway, the 1994 Winter Olympic host. The U.S. is not expected to bid for the 2026 Winter Games.

The next two Winter Olympics will be in East Asia in PyeongChang in 2018 and Beijing in 2022, giving a European or North American city a greater opening to be the 2026 host.

The 2026 Olympic host city is expected to be chosen from an International Olympic Committee members vote in 2019.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Serena Williams comments on 2020 Olympics during pregnancy

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Two weeks after learning she was pregnant, Serena Williams was unsure of committing to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Williams will be 38 in 2020, older than any previous Olympic singles player.

“I can’t promise that … Tokyo 2020 is a lot,” Williams told Wowow TV of Japan after winning the Australian Open on Jan. 28.

Williams said Tuesday in a Ted Talk that she learned of her pregnancy two days before the Australian Open (video here). She was about two months pregnant at the time.

Williams broke the news publicly last week on Snapchat but deleted the post. A spokesperson later confirmed that Williams was pregnant and planned to return to tennis next season.

“Actually, it was an accident,” Williams said Tuesday of the Snapchat. “I was on vacation, just taking some time for myself. I have this thing where I’ve been checking my status and taking pictures every week to see how far along I’ve been going. … You know how social media is, you press the wrong button and there it was. Thirty minutes later, I missed like four calls. I’m like, that’s weird. Then I picked it up, and I was like, oh no. But it was a good moment. I was going to wait, literally, just five or six more days. That’s OK.”

The four-time Olympic champion has made no public comments since last week about the 2020 Olympics.

Williams confirmed Tuesday that she played the entire Australian Open knowing she was pregnant. She won her 23rd Grand Slam singles title, beating older sister Venus in the final.

Williams said she was nervous after finding out she was pregnant two days before the tournament.

“I wasn’t quite sure what to think, but I just knew that at that moment, it was really important me to focus right there at the Australian Open,” she said. “I was definitely not sure what to do. I was like, can I play? I know it’s very dangerous, maybe, sometimes, in the first 12 weeks or so.”

Williams said she didn’t get sick during the tournament. She had heard about people getting tired, or really stressed out.

“I had to really take all that energy, put it in a paper bag, so to say, and throw it away,” she said. “Because I really felt like I didn’t have time to deal with any extra emotions, anything, because, pregnant or not, no one knew, and I was supposed to win that tournament, as I am every tournament that I show up, I am expected to win, and if I don’t win, it’s actually much bigger news.”

Williams is “excited to defy the odds” and return to the WTA Tour next season. She wouldn’t be the first elite player to compete after having a baby.

In January, Williams said Venus, who is 15 months older, is “crazy” and “something special” for targeting the 2020 Olympics.

“I’m really inspired by my sister,” Williams said Tuesday. “If she’s still playing, I know I can play. There’s so many. Roger Federer, he’s a little older than me, and he’s still winning everything, so I’m like, you know, I know I can do that, too. … My story is definitely not over yet. I was talking to my coach about it, and we were talking about. This is just a new part of my life. My baby’s going to be in the stands, and hopefully cheering for me, not crying too much.”

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