By Martin Cleary
In the summer of 2019, Canadian curling icon Pierre Charette of Gatineau flew to Zurich to conduct a summer camp for Switzerland’s newly-crowned world women’s championship rink skipped by Silvana Tirinzoni.
It also coincided with a fantasy curling camp for adults presented by Tirinzoni. But when one of her team members was unable to attend the sold-out event because of illness, she asked Charette to join the fun session. He accepted the invitation with open arms.
Little did he know where this training camp/fantasy camp adventure would take him in the future. But it has been a wild and wonderful ride so far.
After Charette, 66, held his training camp to prepare the Tirinzoni rink for the 2019-20 season and enjoy the fantasy get together, he was asked by the Swiss curling federation to stay another week and be part of a camp for the country’s best juniors.
Then, he was asked to stay a little longer yet again to work with the Tirinzoni team.
“When I was speaking, they must have liked what I said. Why not stay and chat with the (Tirinzoni) team and work with them. Then, they asked me to be their coach. I said: ‘OK,’” said Charette, who made the perfect call as he has been with the Swiss rink for their second- and record third-straight world titles in 2021 and 2022 respectively.
There was also a trip to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games (where the Swiss had a disappointing fourth-place finish) and a number of weekly competitions that have helped put them fourth in the world rankings this season, after a pair of seasons where they ranked seventh.
The Tirinzoni rink’s third consecutive world title came last weekend in Prince George, B.C., where the Swiss team was in total control of the nine-day championship, going 12-0 in the round-robin, defeating Sweden 7-5 in the semifinals and Korea 7-6 in the gold-medal game. While Tirinzoni is the team skip, she threw from the third position, while Alina Paetz was the fourth, Esther Neuenschwander was the second and Melanie Barbezat was the lead. The alternate was Carole Howald.
“Honestly, it was a big relief,” said Charette, the Quebec Curling Hall of Fame member who has been an integral part of the National Capital Region curling scene as well as the golf industry for five decades. “I am so happy for the girls. They were heartbroken in Beijing (Winter Olympic Games).”
Tirinzoni went 8-1 in the Olympic round-robin, but lost the gold-medal opportunity with an 8-6 semi-final defeat by Japan and also missed the bronze medal, after falling 9-7 to Sweden.
“They were really, really down. We were convinced we were the best rink there, but sometimes the best rink doesn’t always win. Beijing was a hard pill to swallow,” he added.
Immediately after the Winter Games, Tirinzoni’s rink took multiple flights to get home quickly for the Swiss women’s curling championship and a chance to qualify for the worlds in Prince George.
After posting a 2-1 record in the four-team round robin and winning a pair of playoff games, Tirinzoni met Raphaela Keiser in a best-of-three final. Stretched to the limit, Tirinzoni won the opener 10-4, lost the second game 5-3, but won the decisive match 8-4.
“They had eight games in three days and were playing on fumes,” Charette explained. “They were crying between the games. They were exhausted.”
Their national championship victory earned them a two-week break before flying to Calgary to meet a team sponsor and relax before heading to the world championships.
The Swiss rink opened against three of its toughest rivals – Scotland, Sweden and Canada – but emerged with three convincing wins, which set the tone for the remainder of the championship.
“They played solid,” said Charette about their overall play. “They didn’t want to come back without a medal. Alina (Paetz) was in a zone that I’ve never seen before. She threw 90 per cent for her 14 games. That’s unheard of in women’s curling.”
Having one skip win three world titles in a row is unprecedented on the women’s side, but Charette understands why it happened. Switzerland also won three world championships in a row from 2014-16, but with three different skips, including Paetz in 2015.
“In Switzerland, the girls were asked to be on the training centre ice on July 1 and all four girls were on the ice,” Charette said. “They have a summer schedule where every Wednesday they work from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. And they also have their individual schedules.”
After Charette held his July camp, the Tirinzoni team followed a simple philosophy: practise, practise, practise. That has been made easier since Swiss high-performance athletes can ask their employer to work part time and the employer must agree to that. Tirinzoni, a financial expert who works in a bank, took the last 18 months off work to focus on the Olympics and two world championships.
During a normal curling season, Tirinzoni, 42, would play about three competitions a month, but that was difficult this season as there were no matches in December and January.
Tirinzoni, who has played in six world championships beginning in 2006 and the last two Olympics, also has been dedicated to travelling to Canada. Her team flies to Canada up to six times a year and has played in every Grand Slam of Curling championship in the past 10 years.
When it comes to the Grand Slam events, Tirinzoni understands Charette can’t be their full-time coach because of a conflict of interest. Charette, one of 18 founding skips of the Grand Slam, is on the management team as competition director.
As their coach, Charette will conduct pre-game meetings, study the ice, analyze the next opponent and talk about different strategies for different situations.
Charette, who has won 12 Quebec titles in men’s, mixed and seniors and earned two silver and one bronze medals at the Brier men’s national championship, is one of a number of Canadian coaches who have travelled around the world to strengthen the game. He prefers that approach rather than seeing two countries dominate a sport, like Canada and the United States in women’s hockey.
“There’s definitely parity in curling,” he said proudly. “It’s awesome. In curling, there is so much parity. Every game is great. I’ve never seen so much buzz.”
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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