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Should Team Ulsrud retire after the Olympics?

First off, much thanks to Sandra for letting me write on her blog. We met over twitter watching Team Ulsrud at the Vancouver Olympics. We've shared our love of our team ever since. And when I messaged her saying I had this piece that didn't fit on either my personal development blog or my baseball blog, she immediately offered to run it here.

So, who am I to say if Team Ulsrud should retire? I’m just a passionate fan who has loved them for a long time, who respects the hell out of them, and who wants the best for them. I know full well that I only have my observations to go by and I recognize they have been influenced by watching José Bautista, once the most feared hitter in baseball, be a shell of himself this year and what that has meant to the fans who love him.

First, let’s look at the argument not to. The team loves curling and how the sport has opened up the world for them. They get to go around to places that love and appreciate the sport and thus love and appreciate them. They are still ranked 10th in the world. And they get the benefits of being the best known curling team in the world, including some great sponsors.

Now the flip side. Team Walstad is ranked 12th and has accumulated more points this season so far. They are the current Norwegian champs and will be going to the World Championships this year. They look to be the future of Norwegian curling. Just looking at the last year, one could easily come to the conclusion they are the best team in Norway, not Team Ulsrud. The passing of the torch is at hand.

But to truly see what lies in the future for Team Ulsrud, I saw it watching Glenn Howard and his team this past weekend at the Stu Sells TorontoTankard, where both teams were competing. Glenn Howard was once the most feared curler in Canada, if not the world. He's won 4 world championships, 15 provincial championships (including the most recent one), and 14 Grand Slams (most recently in 2014). He's currently ranked 17th in the world. The one thing missing from his resume is the Olympics.

This past weekend he lost 3 straight matches to teams ranked in the 50s in the world rankings. Now to be fair, he's working in a new member to his team and it is early in the season but he didn't look like himself. In an interview earlier this year, he expressed his confidence in still being able to win:

"It's going to be a tough road, don't get me wrong," said Howard, who keeps himself in tip-top shape. 

"But I know we have the ability to beat any team on any given day. I'm 100 per cent convinced of that.

Are we as consistent as the rest? No. But if you just keep getting to the right position, set yourself up, play that big game and you come out with [the win], it can be done."

The thing that strikes me about this interview is him admitting he's not the dominant player he once was. One thing that helps Glenn is that he lives in Ontario (the most populous province in Canada) where every weekend you can find a spiel within driving distance. This is not an option available to our beloved Team Ulsrud. Norway does not have the infrastructure Canada does to be able to support many top teams.

So we're talking about a future where you're no longer on the top. When each season you drop lower on the world rankings. You're relying on sponsors so you can spend weeks away from your family in foreign countries. Will those sponsors still stay when the team is no longer top 10? How much longer will their families be understanding about them spending so much time away? We're heading into the world of diminishing returns. The days of being one of the top dogs is over. They're now in the area Glenn Howard described.

Anyway, retirement is usually something contemplated once the season is over and there's downtime. So why am I talking about it now?

The Olympics.

More specifically, my belief that the power of collective intention can improve performance. And an improvement in performance is what is needed if they are to obtain what all us Ulsrudites want - a gold medal for our team. We remember vividly how the last one ended (I wrote about it here) when the team lost on the last rock in the tie-breaker to make it to the playoffs. I was convinced they were going to retire. Then they came back to win the World Championships a month later and that convinced them to go for one more Olympic cycle. One more chance at the gold.

Their national federation recognizes this, which is why they are guaranteed the Olympic berth as long as they can prove they're still contenders by making the playoffs at the European Championships next month. And this is where we, the fans who love them and the curling fans in general who respect them come in. And why I think a retirement announcement would prove useful.

If everyone knew they were done after the Olympics, it would accomplish two things. The first is to encourage the Ulsrudites to make that extra effort to get to the Switzerland, thus making the crowd for the matches weighted heavily on the side of our team. The other thing is to make Team Ulsrud the second choice for those who are there to cheer on their country's entry. Essentially, replicating the scenario that played out in Vancouver.

Those of us in the performing arts well understand the power of the audience. Actors will tell you about those special nights when you feel the audience with you from the beginning and how, if you're open to it, it can lift your performance another level. And right now, Team Ulsrud needs whatever help they can get, both at the Europeans and at the Olympics.

The other piece ties back into José Bautista's experience this year. As the season came near the end and it became painful obvious that his performance meant he would no longer be a Toronto Blue Jay, fans came out in droves to show their love and appreciation for everything he has done for the team. The love was something he could feel, never more so than the final game of the season where his teammates joined the fans in showing their love and respect for him.

Quite frankly, Team Ulsrud deserves this kind of sendoff. It's probably selfish of me but I want to see them go out with gold medals in their hands, showered in love and appreciation, rather than fade away. A-ha's 2010 tour was called Ending on a High Note and I strongly believe that Team Ulsrud should too.


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