In recent years, curling has become one of the most popular sports at the Olympic Winter Games, especially among television viewers in the United States. With the sport adding a mixed doubles discipline this year, SportsTravel caught up with USA Curling CEO Rick Patzke at the Gangneung Curling Center to discuss how things are going so far in Pyeongchang.
SportsTravel: What has your overall experience been so far in Pyeongchang?
Patzke: Competition aside, it’s been great. People are so friendly here and so helpful. What’s a little strange to me is it seems a bit of a subdued culture when it comes to applause. I’ve been waiting for some big eruption of applause. In Sochi, when Russia was playing, you couldn’t hear anything. There were fans screaming at you, but it’s a different culture here.
SportsTravel: What’s your impression of the Gangneung Curling Center as a venue?
Patzke: It’s great. I was here in October and I knew they had a little bit of work to do to make it look good, but it looks great. Their presentation is neat the way they do the pregame on-ice ceremony. And there’s not a bad seat in the house.
SportsTravel: What have the athletes told you about their experience on the ice?
Patzke: The biggest disappointment for them from a competitive aspect so far is the mixed doubles team is not playing to their full potential, although tonight they did. But I haven’t heard heard any negative things about any of the competition equipment or facilities. Everything is working.
SportsTravel: How many athletes do you have here?
Patzke: We have 10 athletes since the two athletes in mixed doubles are on the men’s and women’s teams.
SportsTravel: This is mixed doubles’ debut at the Olympics…
Patzke: It is. I was just sitting here with Gary Quinn from NBC and we were talking a little bit about this event. Overall, NBC is the driver behind the growth of curling in the United States, so it’s always good to have their partnership.
SportsTravel: Do they seem excited about having a new discipline to show on television?
Patzke: They like the mixed doubles. We also had the World Curling Federation president over here earlier today. There’s eight teams in the mixed doubles right now. Ideally, we’d like to expand it to 16, which is an IOC decision of course, but in the Winter Olympics it may be easier to have eight more athletes than in a summer Games.
SportsTravel: Would that open the competitive field?
Patzke: It opens it up to countries that may not qualify in the (traditional) men’s and women’s sides. Some of the countries that have traditionally done well in mixed doubles aren’t necessarily your top men’s and women’s teams—countries like Turkey and Estonia and Lithuania. I think if you add another eight spots it’s going to help bring some of those in.
SportsTravel: Curling always seems to be a ratings draw in the United States during the Olympics and people rally behind it. Are you expecting the addition of mixed curling may add to that draw?
Patzke: Yes, the exposure is great. The biggest thing for us with NBC is it’s not just every four years. They have helped us create a season in between. Even this year, we were on from October and we’ll be on through April, so for us it’s just phenomenal.