#WJCC2018: Sports Media Trainee blog

Emile Gareev and Hayden Nollenberger have joined the World Curling Federation media team at the World Junior Curling Championships 2018 in Aberdeen, Scotland.

They are the latest competition winners of the World Curling Federation Sports Media Trainee Programme.

Emile Gareev, 25, light technologies and optoelectronics at the ITMO University, Russia
Hayden Nollenberger, 20, journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States

Among their duties this week is to contribute to this daily blog, recounting their experiences from their first international curling event.

Hayden Nollenberger

Day five: The ultimate sign of respect

Before I arrived in Scotland I knew absolutely nothing about curling.

To me it was just another game that was popular in a different part of the world – played and watched by people I never interact with. Of course, I watched Team Shuster bring home gold at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, but that was about the extent of my experience with the sport.

Holy cow things have changed.

As I sit here on day five of the World Junior Curling Championships, it’s actually quite shocking to think back to day one and realize how invested I’ve gotten in the tournament. On that first day, I was just trying to keep up. Now I literally eat, breathe and sleep curling.

I think about the day’s match-ups at breakfast. I obsess over potential round-robin standings when I’m getting my coffee. I wake up at 3 am wondering who’s going to get that coveted fourth play-off spot. It’s safe to say I’ve formed an obsession.

And, what an introduction to the sport it’s been. First-off, I get to study under Mike Haggerty, who has covered the sport for 30 years. On top of that I’ve already met Kate Caithness (WCF President), Hew Chalmers (WCF Board Director) and multiple Olympic curling medalists, all while getting the chance to interview the next generation of curling world champions every single day.

It’s the ideal setting to learn in. Everywhere I look there are people with a whole lifetime of experience in curling and they’re always willing to help me understand the finer points of the game. In a matter of days I’ve gone from not knowing what the house is (the area in which points can be scored), to thinking about strategy shots well ahead of time.

Now I sometimes even find myself second-guessing the shot decisions the skips are making. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself….

Regardless, this game is finding a special place in my heart. It’s not as physical as football or as fast as hockey, but the technical nature of it is insane. While most sports are ‘games of inches,’ curling is truly a ‘game of centimetres.’ The precision involved in a game of curling is unmatched across any sport that I’ve ever seen.

But without a doubt the most impressive part of curling is the respect that the athletes show for each other.

Not once have I conducted an interview with an athlete that involved bragging about their performance. Instead, they compliment their teammates’ performance, or even express sadness that the other skip missed a shot they maybe should have made.

After one of the biggest games of the tournament thus far I was waiting in the mixed zone to interview the winning skip, only to see her team come off the ice crying. I figured I had somehow mixed up the winning teams, so I decided to just let the athletes pass by without grabbing them for a post-game conversation.

I went back to the media area to ask around and see if someone understood what had happened, because I was beyond confused. I was then told the game had ended in controversy, with a player accidentally touching a moving stone.

It turns out that the winning team members were crying because they were genuinely upset their opponent lost in such a controversial manner.

In sports, there are always tears. Tears of joy after a tough win, tears of relief when a close game finally ends, or tears of disappointment when you come up short. But, never before have I seen athletes cry because they were sad their opponent had been eliminated.

That is the ultimate sign of respect.

Day three: A day in the life

Days tend to blend together in the area.

I’m struggling to decide if it feels like I’ve been here for three days, or three years. I still remember the nerves I felt when I first got here, but they’ve gone away so quickly it’s hard to fathom why I ever felt them in the first place.

Every day there are three round-robin sessions of curling: at 09:00, 14:00 and 19:00. I arrive at the arena at 9:00 to set up and watch the first session. Then, as the games conclude it’s my job to get flash quotes from the athletes and start helping the lead journalist, Mike Haggerty, with the session report. When it’s finished we select an image from Emile’s library, and we post it to the WCF website.

Then we take a short break and do it all again.

The first session was extremely overwhelming. The second was slightly less and now I feel like a pro!

As I’ve made this transformation Mike has been an immensely valuable asset in my learning of the dos and don’ts in the world of sports journalism.

Do record everything anyone says.

Don’t ask athletes overly complicated questions.

Note that I used the phrases “valuable asset” and “I learn”. Not “good teacher” and “He teaches me”. He leaves it up to me to decide how to do things, often asking questions like, “what do you think the story is here?” instead of starting the conversation by stating his opinion.

Rather than sitting in a classroom and hearing somebody talk about how to conduct yourself in a professional setting, I’m learning through hands-on experience.

And the power of hands-on experience cannot be understated.

Today, I realised that it’s essential to set two alarms. Yesterday I discovered the importance of bringing a power strip to any event. Before that, it was the realisation that it’s best to locate a facility’s restrooms before you’re watching a crucial game in the tenth end and you have to run around looking for it.

All are things that may seem obvious, but without this experience I would never have thought of them. On top of honing my writing skills, this type of learning truly makes the trip to Scotland worth it.

I’ve been short with my blog posts thus far, but that’s definitely going to change. Now that I’m getting quicker at doing my tasks for the WCF you should start to expect some long, sappy posts going to into much finer detail.

Bottom line, I’m learning lots and having fun. That’s all for now.

Day One: Irn-Bru and Tennent’s

When I first stumbled upon the World Curling Federation’s Sports Media Trainee Programme in the fall of 2016, I was instantly confident I would be selected to participate. I love to write and I’m interested in learning more about curling. Why wouldn’t they choose me? I filled out my application and emailed it in, then patiently awaited a call announcing my selection.

The call never came.

Hindsight is 20/20. I should have known the applicant pool would be large, and the admission process would be selective. With so many talented, young journalists out there, winning the contest really was a longshot.

Oh well. There are other opportunities. My attention turned elsewhere.

When I got an email announcing the contest again last fall I figured I might as well give it a shot. I really had nothing to lose. This time I sent in my application with absolutely zero expectations.

And wouldn’t ya know, they actually thought it was good this time.

I was informed that I’d be heading to Aberdeen, Scotland in March of 2018 to cover the World Junior Curling Championships with the rest of the World Curling Federation’s media team.

International sports journalism experience? Sign me up.

Of course, the first people I told about being selected were my family. When my little sister Emma heard that I had won the contest her immediate reaction was one of happiness for me, followed shortly by a desire to travel to Scotland herself.

“You’re totally going to take me with you, right?”

It quickly became a mutual joke between us. I would travel to Scotland to cover the curling championships and she would meet me there to take in the sights.

Eventually March rolled around, and I had completely forgotten about the joke with my sister by that point. Well, apparently Emma didn’t get the memo that we were just kidding around. As my flight touched down at Heathrow airport in London I was shocked to find her there waiting for me.

In the form of a giant snow storm.

Winter storm Emma proved to be a giant inconvenience for me, and everyone else traveling to the World Junior Curling Championships. By some estimates it was the biggest storm the United Kingdom has seen in 50 years.

I was stuck in London for nearly 12 hours as thousands of flights were cancelled. Luckily, I was able to get the last seat on a later flight, so I wouldn’t miss the tournament.

After finally making it to Aberdeen I was ready to immerse myself in Scottish culture. I didn’t know exactly what that was going to entail, but I had an open mind about it. At dinner that evening I was informed by my media mentor Mike Haggerty that the quickest introduction to Scotland is to ‘drink a glass of Irn-Bru and have a pint of Tennent’s.’

So that’s what I did.

Along with a brief explanation of what my duties at the tournament were going to entail, Mike made it clear from the get-go that I would be a full member of the team and I would act as such from day one.

I returned to the hotel that night eager for the games to begin the following morning. This is what I had been working towards for years, and I was excited to get my international journalism career underway.

I got about three hours of sleep. Needless to say, there were some butterflies…

Emile Gareev

Day six: The best fans

Is it important for fans to cheer at sporting events for their favourite team or country? The answer to this question is different everywhere you go, but here the answer is a resounding yes! Every shot is accompanied by shouts, tambourines, vuvuzelas and cow bells (yes, the Swiss have a huge cow bell; I’m afraid to imagine what kind of cows they have Switzerland). Shouts of fans drown out the shouts of all five of the skips at once. In the morning of each day you can hear the permanent “Let’s go Scotland, Let’s go!”. Every day there are local school-children brought here to be introduced to curling and support the host team from Scotland. It is really cool! On the first day, children ran and got autographs from all the players, because they are real fans that truly care about the spirit of the sport.

People come from all over the world to cheer for their favourite players. For someone, it’s children or cousins, for others – friends, and some just come for the love of curling itself. These fans tell the greatest story. They have a simple love for the game that is hard to imagine in other sports. Over the course of the tournament I have loved watching the fans just as much as I’ve loved watching the game, so I decided to share some images of them with you.

That’s all. With love from Aberdeen x

Day four: Hello

Hello. My name is Emile Gareev and today I’m going to share a short story with you all about my experience as a photographer at the World Junior Curling Championships 2018 in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Let’s start at the beginning. I was born in Ufa, Russia and there in October of 2008 I started to take pictures. Since then, I participated in and won, many photo contests. For example, in 2014 I won the national photo competition “The Best of Russia”. I traveled a long way from Ufa to St. Petersburg, where I now live, to study in the Light Technologies and Optoelectronics programme at the ITMO University and work for the University as an engineer. As of now photography is just a hobby for me. But, who knows what will happen next.

So, how am I involved with curling? I’ve played it for almost ten years – with interruptions – and I met the World Curling Federation in 2013. Then I became a volunteer at the World Juniors in Sochi and got into the ice crew. Every year, I worked at the WCF competitions in Russia (Olympic Games, Senior’s World, Mixed) as an assistant on the ice. In 2017, I tried my luck with a WCF competition called the Sports Media Trainee Programme that was seeking a photographer for various competitions. I applied using pictures of curling from the World Mixed Curling Championship (Kazan, 2016), and they helped me to win the contest. I was told I would be working at the 2018 World Junior Curling Championships, and I would be learning how the WCF media operations run.

So that’s how I got here. Now to explain my work.

I go to the ice and take pictures of the players: their smiles, experiences, tears, joy, anger and grief. It is important to catch the live moments in the game and not forget that that’s what this is. A game. It’s hard to photograph curling, but it’s really interesting. I need to find the right angles in a small area to make them come out well. The current WCF photographer, Richard Gray, gave me wonderful tips on how to take pictures: what to catch and where to look. I see everything in my own way, but what’s good or bad is not for me to judge.