A controversial forfeit that spurred debate over the role of off-ice officials in curling wound up affecting the final outcome of the European Curling Championships, as the Norwegian team skipped by Thomas Ulsrud missed the playoffs.
Norway finished round-robin play with a 5-4 record, landing in a four-way tie for third place. Denmark and Scotland ranked ahead of Norway and Italy on tiebreakers and claimed the last two semifinal spots.
Switzerland took the second seed. The Swedish team skipped by Niklas Edin, known to U.S. fans as the team John Shuster and company defeated to win Olympic gold in 2018, finished round-robin play unbeaten.
On Sunday, Norway had comfortably defeated England, which had just been promoted to the top division this year, by a 9-5 score. But after the game, officials informed Norway they would forfeit because a substitute who entered the game did not use the same broom head as the player he replaced.
Just in case the sweeping and the shouting and the chess-like strategy isn’t enough to draw in the fans at the Olympics, the Norwegian curling team is again calling on its secret weapon.
For the third straight Winter Games, the men’s team from Norway will be shaking up the staid, 600-year-old sport by wearing brightly colored trousers in competition.
Among the uniforms for PyeongChang unveiled on Tuesday is one that makes them look like they were the losing team in a patriotic paintball outing.
“Curling is kind of similar to golf, very traditional,” Norwegian second Christoffer Svae said in a telephone interview from New York, where the team — well, mostly the pants — was doing a media blitz. “When we started playing in colored pants, it was breaking tradition. It was turning heads, for sure.”
The pants first attracted attention at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, where they debuted as a red, white and blue argyle in a field filled with black or other dark trousers.
They — the pants, not the curlers — soon had a Facebook page that now has nearly 500,000 followers and its own email address to field media inquiries.
Back then, the team just ordered and paid for the pants off the rack, but it soon became a sponsorship opportunity.
Loudmouth, which had mostly marketed toward golfers, signed on for the Sochi Games and designed pants just for the team, including a pattern featuring the Norwegian flag and another outfit with high socks and knickers.
The company, which declined through a spokeswoman to comment on the value of the deal, has also backed an American beach volleyball team at the London Olympics, golfer John Daly and Peter “Snakebite” Wright, the No. 2 darts player in the world.
But its biggest splash has come with the Norwegian curlers, and it is backing them again in PyeongChang.
Svae said they will have 12 different outfits — enough to get them through the medal round — and some cash to pay for travel and other expenses.
In a niche, largely self-funded sport like curling, that comes in handy.
“It’s huge,” Svae said. “We get funding from Loudmouth to cover travel expenses, and also the fame we get from the Loudmouth clothes get us other sponsors in Norway, because they want to be associated with the brand we’ve made.”
In addition to Svae, the team includes lead Haavard Vad Petersson, vice-skip Torger Nergaard and skip Thomas Ulsrud.
They will be attending their third straight Olympics, having won a silver medal in Vancouver. (Nergaard won gold as part of a different foursome in 2002).
As the idea man behind the pants phenomenon, Svae said there is more to it than just free publicity.
Curlers understand that the gimmicks might call attention to their sport, but they hope that people who tune in for the pants will take a liking to it.
“I think all curlers are eager to promote the sport,” he said.
Norway’s curling federation named Thomas Ulsrud‘s rink — known for its flashy pants at the 2010 and 2014 Winter Games — as its Olympic curling team.
That’s provided Ulsrud and Co. finish in the top four at the European Championships in November.
That shouldn’t be a problem. Ulsrud earned medals at the last 10 European Championships, including making the final eight times.
If Ulsrud’s rink finishes between fifth and seventh place at Europeans, it will have a playoff with the other top Norwegian team for its Olympic spot.
The Olympic announcement was a relief for Ulsrud. The other top Norwegian team — skipped by SteffenWalstad, who is 17 years younger than Ulsrud— played well of late and is immediately behind Ulsrud in worldcurl.com’s standings.
Earlier this month, Walstad’s rink became the first Norwegian team to make the final of a Grand Slam (one of seven major annual tournaments played in Canada).
What’s more, Walstad beat Ulsrud at last season’s Norwegian Championships, earning the nation’s berth at the world championship.
Walstad struggled at worlds, going 5-6, which marked Norway’s worst record at an Olympics or worlds since 2007. Ulsrud had won world gold in 2014 and silver in 2015.
At the Olympics, Ulsrud was fifth in Sochi and earned silver in Vancouver, where The Pants first gained fame.
From NBC Olympic Research:
Shortly before the Vancouver Games, Norway’s national Olympic committee outfitted Thomas Ulsrud’s squad with rather dull, all-black uniforms for the tournament. Ulsrud’s teammate Christoffer Svae, an enterprising 31-year-old from Oslo, thought the team should be more patriotic and purchased several checkered pairs of pants with the Norwegian colors of red, blue and white. As soon as the Norwegians took the ice for their first game, the pants were an immediate sensation. Most major international news agencies interviewed the team and a Facebook fan page developed nearly half a million followers.
Ulsrud turns 46 next month. In PyeongChang, he will be older than any previous Olympic medal-winning skip.
The Olympic favorite is whichever team emerges from Canada’s Trials or Sweden’s Niklas Edin‘s rink. Three different men skipped Canada to gold at the last three Olympics. Two different men skipped Canada to the last two world titles.