Yukon curlers Wade Scoffin and Helen Strong returned from Innsbruck, Austria last Wednesday after participating in the World Winter Masters Games.
The Games are recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and are aimed at adult athletes all over the world. More than 3,000 participants embarked for Innsbruck and competed for more than 2,000 medals in twelve different sports.
Curling had two events, mixed and mixed doubles. Scoffin and Strong competed in the latter. There was 12 mixed doubles team at the World Winter Masters Games, Strong and Scoffin were the lone Canadian representative in mixed doubles. With 12 teams in mixed doubles, they got divided into two pools of six. Each team played five games. The Yukon duo posted a 3-2 record and Scoffin said they had a difficult pool.
“We ended up having a pretty challenging pool to play against,” said Scoffin. “Also, the coincidental setup, we ended up playing the tough teams in the beginning. It was good though.” Scoffin and Strong opened their tournament against Latvia, who went on to win the gold medal. “It was a one-point difference,” said Scoffin. “We lost on the last shot in the last end.” They were able to get back into the win column against Switzerland. “We made a really big comeback,” said Scoffin. “We were down 6-0 and won 8-7. They were a strong team all the way through.”
Before they left for Austria, Scoffin said he was looking forward to playing the German team, which featured Andrea Schöpp. She is a two-time world champion (1988-2010) and a seven-time European champion. Scoffin and Strong played the Germans in their third draw, losing another closely contested game. “Again, it was last shot, one point difference,” said Scoffin. The Yukoners fell 6-5. The German team came in second, losing to Latvia.
Scoffin said it is enjoyable to play against some of the best players in the world. “It’s great,” said Scoffin. “I’ve had the privilege and the opportunity to play against a lot of strong teams. You recognize there isn’t a strong difference between higher-level teams and higher-level players.
“They are no longer intimidating. I’m well past that sort of stage in my career and our career. It’s an enjoyable thing. In the European curling world, she (Schöpp) is on the legend side of things. Getting familiar with her and becoming friends is a real bonus.” Being in those high-pressure games and atmosphere is something that draws Scoffin to compete in tournaments such as the World Winter Masters Games.
“It’s the experiences and the love and the passion for the sport,” said Scoffin. “That’s what the World Winter Masters Games are really focusing on. It’s the sport for life ideas, and the concepts and the philosophies. “In respects to friendships and passions and love for sport and active living, love for competition, that was really the drawing component to things.” Although the teams may come from different countries, they all have, at least, one thing in common – the love of curling. “It’s a mixing of those cultures and using sport as the means for making a connection,” said Scoffin.
After their loss to Germany in their third draw, Scoffin and Strong finished their tournament on a winning note, defeating Austria 10-1 and Russia 9-5. With a final record of 3-2 in round-robin play, they were unable to make it through to the medal rounds. “The Latvians went undefeated in the pool and the German team only had one loss and we were at two losses,” said Scoffin. Scoffin and Strong were third in their pool. Only the top two teams from each pool made the medal rounds. It was still a result that Scoffin was proud of.
“It’s just having the right breaks and right opportunities at the right time,” said Scoffin. “If you play them again it’s a coin flip. Anywhere along the way, third, fourth, fifth ends, you have good fortune or bad fortune in any situation that comes along the various way.”
Scoffin said it’s the little things throughout the game that adds up to either a win or a loss. The curling took place in a town called Kitzbuhel and the rink there also hosted the mixed fours tournament. Scoffin said having those draws happening as well, just added to the atmosphere of the event.
“There was a broader spectrum of countries participating,” said Scoffin. “I’m good friends with the players involved in the Nigerian program and got to know the individuals involved with the programs in India. “There is lots of interesting cultures being mixed within the sport so that was really great. As well with Poland, Latvia, Slovenia and all sorts of countries you don’t often get the opportunity to overlap with.”
The majority of the sports took place in Innsbruck but Scoffin said curling still had a fair amount of fans out to watch. “It was a lower profile event in Kitzbuhel compared to Innsbruck,” said Scoffin. “We were in a large hockey arena. We would have 100-200 spectators at any given time. It was a bit smaller in that context of things but still a really positive experience.”
Being familiar with some of the teams competing, Scoffin said there was some friendly banter during the games. “Always,” said Scoffin. “But, always in good nature. Especially in the sport of curling the tradition, even there as well, is you sit down and the winner offers a drink to the second-place team. “You get to talk and get to know each other on a different level.” Scoffin said this makes everyone involved a better curler. “It’s about the people,” said Scoffin. “We aren’t playing for money. It’s not our career. It’s our interest and passion.”
Before he left, Scoffin said he was looking forward to watching some other sports, including ski jumping. “We had a chance to be able to do that and that was one of the highlights I think,” said Scoffin. “We got to meet and congratulate an 81-year-old Norwegian who won the gold medal in his division. “I think his jump was 14th out of everybody, out of the 2 or 300 people that were participating. He was definitely holding his own for an 81-year-old gentleman.”
The World Winter Masters Games were first held in Bled, Slovenia in 2010. The games happen every five years and Scoffin said he is unsure if he will be heading to the next ones.
The World Masters Games, for summer sports, are held every four years and began in 1985, first being held in Toronto.
Article first published on 27 January 2020 in The Whitehorsestar