Jeff Plush out as USA Curling CEO

Jeff Plush

The head of the organization that runs Olympic curling in the United States resigned Friday in the wake of an investigation that revealed he failed to act on allegations of sexual abuse and other harassment when he was commissioner of a women’s soccer league.

USA Curling said it had accepted the resignation of CEO Jeff Plush and appointed Dean Gemmell, who most recently worked as the federation’s director of development, as interim CEO.

USA Curling also said it was launching a full review of its bylaws and governance policies, including how it manages abuse claims.

“Change will come swiftly, with contributions from all kinds of people who play our great sport,” the federation said in a statement.

Plush’s tenure was already in turmoil when the governing body voted at a member’s assembly earlier this week to expel the country’s largest regional association for nonpayment of dues during the pandemic. Clubs complained that debate was shut down without having a chance to voice their opposition and about other irregularities in the voting process.

Unhappy curling clubs took to Twitter with calls to #FlushPlush, saying the purge clashed with the sport’s ethos as a welcoming, convivial community and its desire to grow beyond its upper midwestern roots.

Last week, citing the soccer investigation, a majority of USA Curling’s diversity task force called for his removal and, failing that, for the board to step down.

“He cannot be trusted to prioritize the safety and well-being of athletes in this organization,” the group said in a statement that was signed by 11 current and former members of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force. “We are concerned about the immediate safety of US curlers.”

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Eve Muirhead, who brought Olympic curling gold home to Scotland, retires

Eve Muirhead

Scotland’s Eve Muirhead announced her retirement, six months after skipping Great Britain to its first Olympic curling title in 20 years.

“I have made the hardest decision of my life to hang up my curling shoes and retire.” the 32-year-old Muirhead posted on social media last Thursday. “Retiring from curling as a current European, World and Olympic champion is something I always dreamt of, and I am signing off with a huge smile on my face.”

Muirhead was a prodigy from the home of curling, winning her first of four world junior titles at age 16. At 19, she was the youngest skip at the Vancouver Olympics, where her rink placed seventh.

She earned her first senior world medal a month later (silver), her first senior world title in 2013 and in 2014 became the youngest skip to win an Olympic medal (bronze). She capped her career with gold in the Olympic women’s tournament in Beijing and a world title in mixed doubles in April.

Muirhead started curling at age 9, tagging along with her father, Gordon, an Olympic curler in 1992 when it was a demonstration sport. Muirhead’s brothers, Glen and Thomas, also competed in Olympic curling in 2018.

Muirhead declined scholarship offers to play college golf in the U.S. to pursue curling. She is also a world-class bagpiper, according to the Scottish curling federation.

At age 11, she stayed up late to watch Rhona Martin’s rink win Great Britain’s first Olympic women’s curling title in 2002. Martin’s last stone to win gold was named the “Stone of Destiny” and put on display at the National Museum Of Scotland.

NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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Thomas Ulsrud, Norway Olympic curling skip, dies after cancer battle

Thomas Ulsrud

Thomas Ulsrud, the skip of Norway’s 2010 Olympic silver-medal-winning curling team whose flashy pants were a sensation, died Tuesday at age 50 after an 18-month cancer battle, according to his former team and confirmed by Norway’s curling federation.

“Thomas has been fighting cancer since December 2020, but the last week it took a turn for the worse and in the end he was gone very quickly,” was posted on the social media of Team Ulsrud, which disbanded in 2019. “We the team are devastated for our loss.”

In 2010, Team Ulsrud became celebrities at the Vancouver Olympics on their way to winning silver medals. Their checkered pants were among the most memorable images of the Games.

From NBC Olympic research:

Shortly before the Vancouver Olympics, the Norway Olympic Committee outfitted Ulsrud’s team with dull, all black uniforms. Team member Christoffer Svae differed and bought several pairs of argyle pants with Norwegian colors of red, blue and white.

The night before their first game, the Norwegians sat together in a room in the Olympic Village, contemplating whether wearing the pants was a good idea. They found fellow Norwegian skiers and snowboarders across the hall and asked the women for their opinion. They told the men they thought they were cool, so Svae said, “Boys, the young girls dig this. We’re doing this.”

As soon as the Norwegians took the ice for their first game, the pants were an immediate sensation. A Facebook fan page gained nearly half a million followers. They ended up signing a lucrative sponsorship deal with Loudmouth Golf, John Daly‘s outfitter.

Ulsrud later called it “the best decision we’ve ever made” as a team.

“I think that’s the closest I’ve been to feeling like a pop star,” Ulsrud said afterward, specifically mentioning walking in downtown Vancouver one night, according to NBC Olympic research. “People had had a couple of drinks, and a couple girls asked me to marry them. I signed something like 200 autographs and pictures. I had the whole gig going. That was my five minutes of fame right there.”

Ulsrud skipped Norway again at the Olympics in 2014 and 2018, again with unique pants. He also led Norway to a world title in 2014.