World Championship history being made as Mixed Doubles joins 2018 Olympic cycle

  • Filip and Dara Gravara Stojanovic competing for Serbia Photo: WCF / Hamish Irvine

The World Mixed Doubles Championship 2016, in Karlstad, Sweden, is a historic event for three countries.

Serbia, Qatar, and Luxembourg have never competed at a World Curling Championship until now. In a 42 team field, a record number for this event, there are curlers with varieties of backgrounds – some are World Champions, some are beginners. But, there is a renewed interest in this version of the game, with it being accepted as a medal discipline for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, Korea and this championship being the first time that Olympic Qualification Points are on offer.

Although their stories are different, their passion for curling remains the same. Mother and son Mixed Doubles pair, Dara Gravara Stojanovic and Filip Stojanovic, explain that 2016 marks a ten-year celebration of curling in Serbia, where the interest in the sport is growing.

“[In Serbia] we have more than 350 official curlers, and 20-30 active curlers,” said Dara.

Dara, the Vice President of the National Curling Association and the President of the Belgrade Curling Association, explains that they have no ice to practice on in Serbia, but they find ways to continue playing.

“We made a sheet of ice under a tent in front of a shopping center,” Filip said.

His mother [Dara] added: “In less than two months, more than 2000 people tried to play curling, which tells us people are interested.”

To practice, the team travels twice a year to meet with coach, and Olympian, Camilla Skaarberg Jensen – who won Silver at the World Women’s Curling Championship 2007, in Aomori, Japan – in Copenhagen, Denmark for intensive training sessions.

The pair hopes to one day have ice in Serbia and they claim that competing at the World Mixed Doubles Championship is a stepping stone to achieving that for their country.

“This is an extremely, extremely big experience for us. Us coming here was the win! Since we are a curling family we wanted to start in the World Mixed Doubles Championship because that is a big step for Serbian curling,” Dara explained.

Serbia also demonstrated their curling ambitions by hosting the World Curling Federation Congress in Belgrade, Serbia in September 2015, which put curling in Serbia on the map for the first time.

For Team Qatar, they’re facing a different challenge. Yazid Alyafei and his partner Mayam Binai have been curling for just one month and they’re already up against many world-class teams.

“We just practiced for one month. So I think at the beginning it is difficult for us,” Yazid said.

Binali said: “We went to Belarus for a camp. It was helpful for us because in our country we don’t have real ice, like this [arena ice], we train on hockey ice, so it’s different.”

Curling in Qatar is new to most people. Both Yazid and Mayam take pride in representing all countries from the Middle East.

“As you know, the only Arab country is Qatar [in the Worlds], but we are celebrating all that play curling, so it was like a motivation to represent Arab countries and in the middle East, because we are the first country to play curling,” said Yazid.

He continued: “In our country there are just 20 players, and all of them are beginners.”
So far, despite the scores in the game, the pair has valued the experience, in Karlstad, and hope to improve on their performances in future championships.

Yazid concluded: “It is very enjoyable, because even if we are losing, the other teams are nice to us.”
Luxembourg’s Karen Wauters shared how it felt to win the countries’ first ever curling match at a World Championship. They beat Romania in Monday (18 April) evening’s 13th session of round-robin play in the Löfbergs Lila Arena by 8-3.

“Being a new country here, it’s a fantastic feeling to finally pull up and feel like we played a good game and had a solid competition [against Team Romania],” she said.

Wauters team-mate, Marco Etienne agreed: “I liked it as well very much. The result doesn’t reflect that Romania played very well it was very close. There were lots of stones in the house, it was very close, it was a very nice game.”

The World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship 2016 runs until Saturday 23 April. For all live coverage visit, www.worldcurling.org/wmdcc2016

by Emily Dwyer, Journalist Sports Media Trainee