PROFILE-Olympics-Curling-Sigfridsson is top of class


By Frank Pingue

Jan 17 (Reuters) - Swede Margaretha Sigfridsson's curling career would probably never have started had a childhood English teacher who loved the sport not sneaked his class to a rink to try it out.

Sigfridsson's teacher wanted his students to try the sport of brooms and rocks at least once, but it quickly turned into a weekly practice for nearly all of the class.

"I was quite good," Sigfridsson, talking about her first attempts at sliding rocks across a curling sheet, told Reuters from Sweden. "I usually am quite good at stuff when I first try.

"I am a little bit lazy so I didn't put in that much effort from the start in practising. I find things often quite easy."

While curling may have come relatively easy for Sigfridsson, the 37-year-old skip of the Swedish national team in Sochi, she is still fine-tuning her game with hopes of earning a spot on the podium.

She has come up just short several times in her career, including four silver medals at world championships. But after capturing the gold medal at the European championships in November, Sigfridsson should be oozing confidence in Russia.

Sigfridsson and her rink of Maria Prytz, Christina Bertrup and Maria Wennerstrom avenged a defeat by Scotland during the round-robin portion of the European championships by winning the women's final convincingly.

"At the moment I think this is really the best one. We've had a few silver medals the last few years and this feels great to go all the way," Sigfridsson said after winning the worlds.

"The gold medal was not the most important thing but we wanted to get a good result at this tournament and it was of course fantastic to do this."

The Sochi Games will mark Sigfridsson's Olympic debut, and while she expects to be a bit awestruck at first, she will do her best to stick to her normal routine.

For Sigfridsson and her team mates, that will mean eating together two hours before each game, going for a group walk and finally, jumping and dancing along to a pre-arranged playlist.

But Sigfridsson faces a tough task in Sochi, where her team will be trying to defend the gold medals since-retired compatriot Anette Norberg won at the 2006 and 2010 Games.

"We would be happy if we get a medal," said Sigfridsson. "We know we have the ability to play for gold as well but we know it will be very tough and we are willing to do our best there and the team that has the best week will of course win."

Sigfridsson won a silver medal playing on Norberg's rink at the 2009 worlds but has not yet tapped one of the world's most successful curlers for any advice before heading to Sochi.

"We will enjoy the greatness of the Olympics and to be able to get some energy from the other Swedish athletes, but other than that we need to be cautious and do what we normally do at championships," she said.

Sigfridsson tried many sports as a child including soccer, basketball, badminton and downhill skiing. And despite world famous Swedish names from tennis, women's golf and ice hockey, she just wanted to be a curler.

It was the tactics in curling that made it more appealing than Sweden's more mainstream sports, says Sigfridsson.

While she has no desire to become a known face that draws massive crowds everywhere she goes, the skip hopes to help grow the game of curling in Sweden, even if it does mean having to do away with her relative anonymity.

"I would like that curling gets more attention from ordinary Swedish people but I really enjoy being private and not being recognized on the streets," said Sigfridsson.

Asked if she would trade her privacy for a gold medal, she said: "Yes of course. But Swedish people are kind've shy as well so I think more people recognize me than people coming up and saying something." (Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto. Editing by Tony Goodson)

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