Morning Chronicle - Italy's tiny curling community rejoices at Olympic triumph

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Italy's tiny curling community rejoices at Olympic triumph
Italy's tiny curling community rejoices at Olympic triumph

Italy's tiny curling community rejoices at Olympic triumph

Italy's curling heroics at the Winter Olympics has unearthed a sudden enthusiasm which the country's tiny curling community hopes will raise its profile enough to complete with more popular winter sports like alpine skiing.

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Amos Mosaner and Stefania Constantini claimed the first curling title of the Beijing Games on Tuesday when they beat Norwegian husband-and-wife pairing of Kristin Skaslien and Magnus Nedregotten 8-5 to take gold in the mixed doubles.

The pair will defend Italy's first ever Olympic medal in the sport -- which is dominated by northern Europeans and North America -- on home soil in four years' time, bringing joy to the just 333 people who officially practise curling in the Mediterranean country.

"I cried with happiness, it's a victory for everyone in Italian curling," Angela Romei, a member of Italy's national team, told AFP.

Romei, 24, didn't manage to qualify for the Beijing Games but is convinced that her teammates' trumph "is a signal that we are on the right path".

Enthusiasts now hope the sport will get a huge boost as Italy prepares to host the 2026 Winter Olympics.

The Italian winter sports federation FISG says that the country's curlers are spread over 28 clubs, with only around 20 top-level players and half a dozen professionals.

Italy first competed in Olympic curling in 2006 as host nation for that year's Games in Turin but only qualified for the first time four years ago, with the men's team taking part in Pyeongchang.

Mosaner and Constantini are the first Italians to compete in the mixed event, which was introduced as an Olympic discipline in 2018.

"Until the last few days I was often asked 'but is it really a sport?', or 'do you really need to train?'... there was very little awareness or respect," says Romei, who discovered the sport herself via an episode of "The Simpsons".

"It's an Olympic sport! It requires physical and mental preparation. The matches are long and you have to know how to keep your head if you make a mistake."

While Italy has become a force in curling, it remains difficult to find a place to play the sport.

- 'Priceless for our sport' -

The three main training centres are all located in the far north of the country: Cortina D'Ampezzo, which is hosting the 2026 Games alongside Milan, Pinerolo at the foot of the Alps, and Trento.

The stated challenge for the FISG now is to increase the number of players and take the sport to the big cities like Milan and Rome.

"What happened is priceless for our sport," former Italian international Adriano Lorenzi told AFP.

Now 61, Lorenzi is a coach at Constantini's club Curling Club Dolomiti in Cortina, the heartland of Italian curling and where the country's first curling sheets appeared around 1930.

"We are trying to keep the tradition alive," says Lorenzi, who is expecting a big party when Constantini returns home at the weekend.

"We have a large pool of young people who we hope will be able to apply for the 2026 Games."

Her and Mosaner's coach Claudio Pescia is hoping for a windfall which will further help curling become a bigger sport in Italy.

"For the athletes, it's very important. Italy is very generous if you win a medal," he said.

"In general, you then have a programme for two years. Some kind of funding for the next two years, then an extra fee for the medal.

"But I really hope that not only athletes but the whole movement gets a little bit more funding to take advantage of this momentum we have."