After weekend hiccup at men's worlds, Grand Slams move into curling bubble

After three domestic events and an upended world men's championship due to what organizers said were four "false positive" COVID-19 tests, the Grand Slam of Curling is ready for its turn in the Calgary bubble.

The Humpty's Champions Cup, originally scheduled to begin Wednesday morning, will kick off Thursday afternoon at WinSport's Markin MacPhail Centre.

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"It has been a bit of a roller-coaster, as I'm sure it would be for everybody involved over the last few days," said Rob Corte, vice-president of Sportsnet and NHL Productions.

It looked like the bubble may have popped late Friday night when the World Curling Federation and Curling Canada said four participants tested positive for COVID-19.

Play was suspended Saturday but Alberta Health later approved the resumption of play and remaining games were squeezed in Sunday. The WCF said all four individuals tested negative in a round of retesting.

None showed symptoms of the coronavirus. The WCF said Monday the cases were "false positives."

"We were in lockstep with what was going on," Corte said. "And just waiting for some finality of what was happening and then we could make our decisions as to what we would do.

"But when the news came out that they were false positives, of course that changed everything and we could proceed as we had planned."

Players and event personnel will be tested every two days during Slam events. International teams that didn't compete last week must quarantine for seven days and take four tests before play begins.

Pushing the start of round-robin play back a day provided more time to change sponsorship logos and restore the ice.

"We just felt like, 'Why try and push it and rush it?" Corte said. "Let's just take the extra day and make sure everybody is set and comfortable. It allows also for a little bit more practice for the players."

The men's and women's finals will be held on Monday. The competition will be followed by the April 20-25 Princess Auto Players' Championship.

The seventh and final event at Canada Olympic Park will be the April 30-May 9 LGT world women's curling championship.

Curling Canada ran the first three bubble events — the women's, men's and mixed doubles national championships — before working in conjunction with the WCF on its world men's championship.

Sportsnet will run its Grand Slam events before handing things off again for the world women's playdowns. All future events will include the same virus-avoidance protocols and restrictions established in the first four.

Niklas Edin of Sweden successfully defended his world men's title with a victory over Scotland's Bruce Mouat late Sunday night. Edin said he remains comfortable in the bubble setting.

"Once you're in the bubble, it's never going to be 100 per cent safe," he said. "It's pretty much impossible to keep it 100 per cent safe. But I think everyone is doing as much and almost more than what is possible to keep everyone safe."

His thoughts were echoed by Mouat.

"Totally comfortable," he said. "The bubble is a way safer place to be than outside it, so I'm happy to be there."

TSN did not broadcast the Sunday morning game citing COVID-19 concerns.

"There was enough uncertainty leading into that Sunday morning that we had close conversations with Curling Canada and the World Curling Federation," said Stewart Johnston, senior vice-president of sales and sports at Bell Media.

"Collectively we all decided maybe it was in the best interest — until we kind of settled and saw where things were going — to pull back."

Ice-level broadcast crew members relocated to the concourse level for the last two draws.

Players wore masks on the final day with sweepers pulling them away from their faces to catch their breath after hard brushing. Masks will not be required during game play at the Grand Slams.

The Slam events feature 12 of the top men’s teams and 12 of the top women’s teams from around the world.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 13, 2021.

With files from Canadian Press sports reporter Donna Spencer in Calgary.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

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