Canadian Olympic gold medallist and Winnipeg mom Jill Officer gives us a twice-monthly look behind the scenes of her dual life in her blog, Jill’s House.
It was a hot and sunny day sitting by the pool in Saint Martin in February. My teammate Dawn handed me her phone and said, “Is this legit?”
I read the email, which was an invitation to an event in…
“It’s in, like, Siberia!” Dawn said.
I read the email again. Seems legit. And after some digging around, post vacation of course; we discovered that in fact this event was more than real. This event would be the first international event to be held in the Arctic Circle – The Arctic Curling Cup.
Eight arctic nation women’s teams would have their expenses paid to fly to Dudinka, Russia (the Arctic Circle of Northern Russia) to compete for a total prize purse of US $100,000!
Believe it or not, there was still a bit of debate amongst the four of us about whether to go, but we ultimately came to the decision that it was tough to pass up. And really, when else would you ever go to Siberia?!
So off we went with our protein bars, snacks and soup from home unsure of what food would be presented to us.
Winnipeg-Toronto-Frankfurt-Moscow (where we stopped for a day) and then the four hour flight to Norlisk, which was also another four hour time change from Moscow for a total of 12 hours difference from Winnipeg.
When we first landed in Norlisk, which has a population of over 170,000 people, it just looked like the prairies in January.
As exhausted as we were, given the overnight flight to the north, we drove an hour by bus to Dudinka (population of just over 22,000) where we stopped at the town’s welcome sign to be greeted by some of the local people in traditional dress.
For the next four days, we curled and experienced “cultural activities” which included a local museum visit, becoming a honourary Citizen of the Taimyr Peninsula (a local to the region) and being hosted in what their indigenous people call a “skin tent” which is essentially like a teepee. Inside the skin tent, we met the original deer farmer of the region and I even took a swig of goose broth!
The curling event itself had some interesting aspects as we played with a back drop of quiet house dance music and a flashy stage that was ultimately used for the best opening ceremonies we’ve ever been part of – other than the Olympics!
WATCH: Fireworks during opening ceremonies in Siberia
In the end, we won the silver medal in the event losing our only game in the final to our familiar Russian rivals Team Anna Sidorova of Russia.
A few years ago, we thought that curling in Las Vegas was a strange location, but now it just seems normal. So while curling in Siberia seemed even more unusual despite being a winter nation, it may just become a regular stop on the curling tour.
After returning home, someone said to me, “I guess you can check Siberia off your bucket list.”
“I’m not sure it was really on my bucket list,” I said.
“But now that I’ve been there, I will put it on the list and check it off!”
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