Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada
March 19, 2014
Although the World Women’s Curling Championship showcases well-known competitors of the sport, such as Margaretha Sigfridsson's Swedish Olympic silver medal winning team, this year, the event in Saint John, Canada, is also playing host to many new teams who are looking to advance their international curling careers.
Latvia is among the teams - along with the Czech Republic, China, and Scotland - who are representing their countries for the first time at World Championship level.
The Latvian Curling Association was only founded in February of 2001, becoming a member of the World Curling Federation just months later.
Their foray into international curling came nine years later when Latvia made its debut as a country at the 2010 World Women’s Championship in Swift Current, Canada, led by skip Iveta Stasa-Sarsune.
Stasa-Sarsune and her team competed a second time when their country hosted the event in 2013.
This year’s Latvian representatives, led by skip, Evita Regza, third, Dace Regza, second, Ieva Berzina, lead Zaklina Litauniece and alternate Iluta Linde, qualified after a historic seventh place finish at the 2013 European Curling Championships in Stavanger, Norway.
It is only their third season playing together.
“Being here is really great!” said Evita Regza. “I want to play all the games as best as I can and enjoy this game, enjoy the spectators, enjoy the event; all of it!”
Curling is a growing sport in the country, currently being played by 145 people in a population of approximately 2 million.
Before Latvia’s one curling rink was built in Riga five years ago, Evita and Dace Regza travelled to local hockey rinks in order to hone their skills.
Head coach Ansis Regza said the addition of the curling rink allowed players the opportunity to play on properly prepared pebbled curling ice, and this was crucial to building interest in the sport and the competitive level of their curlers.
“Before then…we would start at five or six a.m. because of hockey,” he said. “It was a push to generate interest and to get more people to come and try.”
According to Artis Zentelis, Secretary General of the Latvian Curling Association, there are thoughts of building another rink to cope with the sport’s growing popularity.
Hosting the 2013 Titlis Glacier Mountain World Women's Curling Championship in Riga gave the country’s curling community another outlet through which to expose the Latvian people to the sport, and hopefully create growth within their programme.
“When it [the World Championship] was in Latvia, it was better because people saw curling on the TV and they came more and more,” said Dace Regza with a laugh. “Not as big as in Canada, but the progress was still really great.”
Latvia has only produced two competitive women’s teams in the past decade, creating a constant back and forth between the two for national representation.
The experience of both teams in Europe over the past few years has progressed their level of competition to a point where they are now earning the chance to play against the world’s best teams.
“We are just growing and growing after each tournament and each championship,” Evita Regza said. “After each…your experience gets better and better.”
The Latvian programme has grown by leaps and bounds as Team Regza, who once paid all competition expenses themselves, have gained financial support from the Latvian Government and Ministry of Sport and Education.
“The last two years, it’s a pretty good amount of money,” Ansis said. “We can really participate in the Worlds or in the European Championships. We can do more.”
Team Regza’s goals at this event are not to win, or to even place in the top five - they simply hope to improve on the work they’ve done to qualify out of the European Championships.
“We need big success to grow this sport in Latvia, as we see in other sports, we need to win gold at the Olympics!” Evita Regza said with a laugh.
Though the team remains positive in the hope that their success can foster an ever-growing fan-base for the sport in Latvia, Evita Regza said they realize it won’t happen overnight.
Written by Taylor Craig, winner of the World Curling Federation Trainee Journalist Programme 2013