Kosovo’s rising curling team endured a nightmare journey to Aberdeen before they could realise their dream of competing in the World Mixed Championships.
Kosovo recorded an historic first world championship victory when overcoming Nigeria 9-3 at Curl Aberdeen.
It was a pivotal step in the development of the sport in a nation that has no ice rink – and the team have to travel 1,000K to train.
The Kosovo lead had not trained on ice and practiced sliding in socks in a living room just days before the tournament.
Only after a saga of television appeals, missed flights, frantic taxi journeys, delayed visas and much stress did they finally arrive in Scotland – nearly two hours after their scheduled first game, which they had to forfeit.
It was the latest setback for a Kosovo team driven by the ambition and vision of Canadian-born coach and player Peter Andersen.
He began his dream, funded by his family, of building up curling to be more than a minority sport in the country in 2016.
Andersen said: “It is hard to believe that Kosovo have reached the point of competing in the world championships.
“I dreamed about it and for it to happen is brilliant.
“However, we only got here after the most stressful two weeks of my life.”
Securing visas and travelling to Scotland were major hurdles for the team.
“We didn’t have funding to go to Aberdeen until two weeks before the event so we applied for the visas late and had to go for the priority ones,” said Andersen.
“What they didn’t tell us was that the British Embassy in Kosovo doesn’t accept any visa applications as they do it through a third-party company.
“We discovered the visas had been shipped from Poland to Skopje, Macedonia. The Macedonian national holiday was the next day.
“It would have taken an extra two days for the visas to get to us so our coach drove from Pristina to Macedonia to intercept the package.”
The team had already missed one flight, but more drama was to come.
“We had flights that night to lay over in Basel in Switzerland before flying into Edinburgh,” Andersen said.
“Checking in they wouldn’t let my team fly because you need a Schengen (short stay) visa for a lay over in an airport. Most airports have a transit zone, but Basel doesn’t.
“We re-booked on another flight that night that left from Skopje so had to drive in a taxi to Macedonia. There was a car accident on the motorway so it was slow traffic.
“The gate closed 10 minutes before the team arrived so they missed the flight. Turkish airlines thankfully gave them a really low price to fly out the next day.
“The team didn’t get into Edinburgh until Saturday morning at 9.45am after our scheduled game against Slovakia at 8am.
“The plan was to arrive in Scotland and have a week practicing on the ice. My lead hadn’t been on ice yet and last Monday we did slides in the living room on socked feet to get that down.”
Originally from Ontario, Canada, a summer internship with the United Nations to develop an app to help farmers took Andersen to Kosovo.
He looked for somewhere to curl and discovered there was nowhere.
Andersen said: “I was the first person to enquire about the sport since 2012 so the Kosovo Curling Federation gave me the keys to the car and said I could be their advisor.
“There was an ice facility used back in the 1990s but it has basically been turned into a parking lot. Budapest is the closest we can train which is almost 1,000K away.”
With no ice rink, Andersen shipped in a street curling set from Canada so children could try the sport and more than 5,000 kids have since taken part.
He insists sport is vital for bringing unity to Kosovo, a country blighted by long-term conflict.
He said: “Sport is hugely important in Kosovo as it creates a community and gets people together.
“Curling is all about having a good game and getting to know your opponents after the match.
“The spirit of curling in Kosovo would be good for getting people together.”
Despite their historic win over the Nigerians, Kosovo struggled against more established curling nations, eventually finishing with a 1-6 round-robin record.
They suffered an 18-1 defeat to Estonia, a 14-1 loss to Germany and 17-3 reverse against the Canadians among their results, exiting before the last-16 stage.