In The Rings: Olympic champion Fry hopes to guide Italian rink to podium at the Games

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Ryan Fry sees a lot of similarities between his former team skipped by Brad Jacobs and the Italian team he’s now coaching.

Fry won Olympic gold at the 2014 Sochi Games with Jacobs, Ryan Harnden and E.J. Harnden.

Now retired as a player, Fry is hoping to guide the Joel Retornaz-skipped foursome to the Olympic podium at the 2026 Games in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.

“It very much suits that same type of mentality we had with the Team Jacobs run,” Fry said of the Italian players. “It’s just a brotherhood and just doing absolutely everything possible to garner success.

“To be able to be a part of that, it’s something where I’m just hoping to bring what made me unique and what made me successful to this team.”

Fry, 45, spent about seven years with Jacobs after joining the team in 2012.

The Northern Ontario reps won the 2013 Brier and added world silver before taking Olympic gold the following season.

Retornaz, 40, is the veteran on an Italian squad that includes three players in their 20s: reigning Olympic mixed doubles champ Amos Mosaner, Sebastiano Arman and Mattia Giovanella.

They enjoyed a breakout performance last season, becoming the first Italian team to win a Grand Slam title.

Fry coached Rachel Homan’s team last season and also wrapped up his competitive men’s career last spring on an Ontario-based side skipped by Mike McEwen.

They reached the playoffs at the Brier but fell in the 3-4 Page playoff game.

“Me and Mike had such a rapport and a friendship growing up in Manitoba, we wanted to give it that one shot to see what we could do,” Fry said.

The opportunity to work with the Italian side “came together quickly” over the summer, Fry said.

“It just seemed like we were very aligned on the processes it would take to do very well at the Olympics,” he said. “It just became something that I didn’t really want to turn down.”

Retornaz won bronze at the European championship last season. The three-time Olympian also finished third at the 2022 world championship.

“It’s very similar to what had me excited about Team Homan,” Fry said of his role. “The work ethic is just above and beyond.”

Retornaz finished 3-6 at last year’s Beijing Games under Claudio Pescia, who spent five years coaching the team. Pescia is now serving as the Italian curling program’s technical director.

Retornaz threw third stones and skipped Italy to a 4-5 mark in his Olympic debut at the 2006 Games in Turin. He finished with a 3-6 record at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.

“Curling is their No. 1 priority and medalling at the Olympics is their No. 1 priority,” Fry said.

The Winnipeg native announced his retirement as a player a few days after the Brier.

“I still want to be competitive, just in a different way,” Fry said. “I think the sport is very much going to where the coach is very much a part of the team.

“Hopefully with some of the other amazing coaches out there, we can start (pushing) to really showcase what coaching can do in curling.”

It’s quite common for active and retired Canadian curlers to serve as coaches for international teams.

Last year in Beijing, Wayne Middaugh coached Sweden’s Anna Hasselborg and Pierre Charette worked with Switzerland’s Silvana Tirinzoni. J.D. Lind coached Japan’s Satsuki Fujisawa and Peter Gallant coached South Korea’s EunJung Kim.

Retornaz, who’s playing at this week’s Grand Slam opener in Niagara Falls, Ont., has risen to No. 3 in the world rankings behind Canada’s Brendan Bottcher and Scotland’s Bruce Mouat.

“They’re starting to become one of those teams that are consistently putting very good performances out there,” Fry said.

“When you can do that consistently, it just turns into wins.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 19, 2023.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on X.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

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