Monday, January 18, 2010

What's happened to Karen?

Karen Addison, above, the fifth player in the GB Olympic curling team headed for Vancouver next month, has not been seen with the other team members for the past two weekends. Her absence at the Glynhill Ladies International at Braehead at the weekend led to much speculation amongst the other teams and curling fans. I understand too that it was the talk of the steamie at Perth too, at the men's championship qualifying.

Was she ill? That didn't seem to be the simple explanation. I asked where she was, and I was told that nothing could be said there and then but a statement would be made. No statement has appeared.

There is speculation that Karen has left the Olympic Squad. Could that possibly be true? If so, why? Is it anything to do with British Curling's performance director Derek Brown, who is still embroiled in a legal battle stemming from what happened at the World Championships in Vernon, back in 2008, in his capacity then as the Scottish National Coach? It was Karen Addison who stepped into the head then and skipped the remnants of the Scottish team to two victories which helped secure the British place in the 2010 Olympics. Would it not be ironic if disagreements with Brown now are somehow involved?

The speculation is that Karen has been unhappy that she's not had the opportunity to play recently. Have there been conflicts with Team Coach, Nancy Murdoch? But I don't know. It does seem odd that the Olympic fifth player would not be match ready.

One thing is true. When something like this happens, the tendency of those in charge is to retreat within themselves and say nothing. Bad idea. Letting gossip go unchecked just makes it worse in the long term. And of course the situation is complicated by the fact that the teams are now the responsibility of the British Olympic Association.

But let's make no mistake, this is an incident of extreme importance. British Curling has had years to get it right - that we field the best prepared teams at the Olympics. Every opportunity has been taken to say what a good job has been done. The men's team has always been a team and of course chose their own alternate, Graeme Connal, although he had not originally been selected for the Olympic squad of six. Although not everything has gone right for them on the ice this busy season, all the signs are that the team is coming to form at the right time.

The women's team has been manufactured, and with no great expectations at first, has grown into an outfit of which we can all be proud. I watched Karen hard at work late into the night at Aberdeen, testing out stones and generally doing all the work expected as a fifth player, and indeed able to step on to the ice and play in any position should the need arise. I can only surmise that behind the scenes recently problems have arisen. That's sad.

Remember, this is all speculation. It could be that the delay in any announcement appearing is that efforts are being made to get Karen to change her mind. Who knows. If she does and the squad remains intact, that would be great of course. Am I wrong, do you think, in bringing all this to the fore now, when we don't know what has happened today or what will happpen tomorrow? There will undoubtedly be some who think I am. But I believe firmly that you should never hide the truth, however difficult the situation. There were lots of people asking the same question as me at the weekend, "Where's Karen?" And being fobbed off with no answer. Make no mistake, these are people who are 100% behind our Olympic efforts, as am I.

If Karen has gone, who will get the call as a replacement fifth player? The precedent is there, as with the men, for the women to chose their own alternate. But there is so little time left. Lynn Cameron was the sixth member of the squad when it was first announced. She was then discarded, and has moved on in her own curling career. Now as a rival of the Muirhead team in the Columba Cream Scottish Ladies Championship (as Claire Milne's third) she is not interested in any call to come back. She is already an Olympian, lead in Team GB in 2006. She's been there, done that. Current European Mixed champion of course. Joining the Team GB Squad now, I suspect, holds little attraction.

The talk seems to be that Annie Laird would be asked. That's her above, in the pink jacket, substituting for the Sarah Reid team at the weekend.

Annie is an experienced player. She played lead for the Jackie Lockhart team which won the World Championship in 2002. But the fact remains that if Annie, or indeed whoever goes to Vancouver as the fifth, and because of illness or injury is called on to play, it would mean that Great Britain would be represented by four players who have never, ever, been on the ice together as a foursome in competition. What an absolute nonsense that would be!

It really is a distraction for Eve, Jackie, Kelly and Lorna who, even this past weekend, showed that they have the talent and class to compete against the best in the world. Nothing like this should be interfering with their preparations.

The timing of it all could not be worse. On Wednesday, Louise Martin CBE, Chair of sportscotland and Sports Minister, Shona Robison, will team up in Stirling to extend Scotland's best wishes to all our winter sports athletes who have been selected to represent Team GB at the forthcoming Winter Olympic Games. A press release has been circulated.

In it, Chris Hildrey, the British Curling Chairman, says, "I'd like to congratulate the curlers on their selection for Team GB as we enter the final stages of preparation for medal success in Vancouver. The passion, commitment and professionalism they have displayed over recent months has been admirable and with their selection now confirmed, they will be able to focus efforts on achieving the ultimate goal in Vancouver, whilst hopefully enjoying the Olympic experience." Hasn't turned out that way, has it? I asked Chris by email today when the statement promised me yesterday would appear. He did not give me an answer.

Well, that's how I see it tonight, in the absence of any official statement.

Photos by Bob