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Margo Weber: The Olympic Dream

[Welcome back Margo Weber; blogstar from the 2009 Tim Hortons Brier, she is back to pontificate on the Tim Hortons Canadian (Olympic) Trials. Here’s her big-picture portrait of this amazing Olympic canvas…]
by Margo Weber

It all comes down to this, folks… because it’s finally here, what everyone has been talking about. The Roar of the Rings.

We’ve been waiting for this for years and it promises to be the best display of curling… possibly ever. This is an event with the best men’s and women’s curlers in Canada. Two teams will be crowned Olympians and go on to represent our country at home in Vancouver in February.

This is huge.

The last Olympic Trials I saw in person was in Brandon in 1997. I held my breath when Sandra Schmirler made ‘the shot’, and I sat right behind the sheet when Mike Harris casually walked away to get a drink of water, and walked back an Olympian.

I have very clear memories of sitting down with Shannon Kleibrink after her eventual loss to Team Schmirler, and with tears in her eyes she said she wasn’t upset at that moment because she’d lost the game… she just missed her kids.

This is a big deal. People put their lives on hold for this. Some wait just a few more years to start a family. Some set their careers aside, and even let them slip. Certainly most players sacrifice every vacation day they have just to prepare themselves for what might be. The Olympic Dream is a costly one.

Schmirler famously burst into tears after her final rock in that game. She was barely able to shake hands. She later explained that she simply did not know how she was going to leave her babies.

Some teams have been a threat for years. Kevin Martin, Glenn Howard, Jennifer Jones… they all qualified two seasons ago. They’ve been waiting, planning and preparing. Jason Gunnlaugson and Crystal Webster were pleasant surprises… perhaps they have less pressure on them. Maybe they will carry less on their shoulders as they march into Rexall Place. Someone like Jeff Stoughton knows he should be there… and will just take it one game at a time.

For us spectators, we sit… and wait… and, now, finally, we get to watch. And be glad we aren’t the parent of someone out there on the ice.

But we all know there are curling superstars in the making out there. Regardless of what happens, at least some of the athletes on the eventual Olympic teams will be brand new, frst-time Olympians.

They likely have no idea how their lives will change.

[CCA photo of Cheryl Bernard (nice shaaawwwt!) by Michael Burns]
• Behind-the-scenes pics of Opening Ceremonies and gab session
• Winner of our Glenn Howard curling condom trivia contest (say what?!)
… and more!
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The Olympians are coming

EDMONTON – Oh, the stories they’ll tell.

The Olympians are coming. No, not the handful of medallists among the competitors at the Roar of the Rings, which starts Sunday… they will soon be the stars of the show, as we all know.

We’re talking about the members of teams Sandra Schmirler – minus one, sadly,  of course – and Mike Harris (Karuizawa, 1998)… and teams Kevin Martin (incl. the two Dons) and Kelley Law (Ogden, 2002)… and even a couple of bodies from teams Kleibrink and Howard-slash-Gushue, from Pinerolo, 2006.

The Canadian Curling Association is flying them in for the opening weekend, which starts tonight with the Opening Banquet; continues Saturday with opening night At The Patch; and peaks with the start of play on Sunday, with the Opening Ceremonies and appearances in the Keith’s Patch for some interactive “Up Close and Personal” sessions.

Good on the CCA for celebrating its Olympic Trials past, and welcome to The Roaring Game’s heavy medallists.

And the stories they’ll tell!

Missing out on Edmonton? Sure, TSN TV – in High-Definition all week, for free – will help make up for it, but there really is no substitute for watching the games live in person. In our humble opinion.

As for these Olympic stories, rest assured that The Curling News will take care of you… be your fly on the wall… through this here TCN Blog, and/or through the @curling Twitter feed, and/or via the post-Trials January issue, in our popular They Said It department.

And also through the lateral efforts of our commander-in-chief, The Curling Guru, who also writes a weekly Sun Media column.

All we ask in return is for you to subscribe to The Curling News, which is delivered six times per annum to your door in a protective polybag, via first-class mail. Please support us in our quest to provide the ultimate in essential curling news and information, across multiple media platforms.

We guarantee different content in all these deliverables mentioned, and your patronage will help us consolidate our position as number one in the curling media world.

And those who give the gift of The Curling News, aka subscribe a friend or family member over the next couple of weeks – say by December 18 – will see that recipient receive a gift card notice in time for the holidays, explaining your gift.

Tomorrow, later in the day, another TCN expert gives her Trials predictions, in addition to those four who have already seen their fearless forcasts appear in the December issue – world wheelchair champion and six-time Brier skip Jim Armstrong; TCN columnist and Calgary Herald curling wizard Allen Cameron; CBC talkie and Olympian Mike Harris; and four-time bronzed STOH skip Sherry Middaugh.

That’s a fifth expert, tomorrow, right here on the blog.

Sunday, just prior to the opening ceremonies, ace blogstar Margo Weber weighs in  with her first of many Trials postings. You remember Madge, and her partner Dalene Heck, blogging from last March’s Tim Hortons Brier in Calgary, right? (use search box at top left)

We’ll have lots from Margo, and some other surprise blogstars, throughout the week here in Edmonton.

And we do it all for curling. We simply love curling, and we know you do, too. Thanks again for your support, folks.

POSTSCRIPT: Have you been following our tweets? If not, make way and follow, because you have missed the following:

Jennifer Jones, Glenn Howard first to arrive
Randy Ferbey’s alternates anger; Glenn says relax
• Will the Mythbusters blow up a curling stone? Vote for it…
• Trials predictions: what does the math say?
• Another curling calendar gal takes it off (NSFW/age warning)
• Canadian provincial playdowns in high gear this weekend
• Mammoth European championships ready in Aberdeen
• Geez, this guy seriously dislikes The Ferb
Hec Gervais, St. Albert native, would have been proud
• World Curling Tour event results and wrapups
• Ferbey credited with finding new CCA/WCF sponsor
• Curling meets Tailgating in Green Bay Packerland

… and more!

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Olympic curling roadsign

Our friend Terry Jones is back on the curling beat, and not a moment too soon.

The veteran Sun Media sports scribe, who also authored the 2007 book The Ferbey Four, was at a “32 days out” ceremony for the massive Roar of the Rings event coming to Edmonton December 6-13.

Otherwise known as the Tim Hortons Canadian Curling Trials, the event is basically the “Olympic Trials” which will declare Canada’s representatives for Vancouver 2010.

As Jones tells us here, many of the late week draw matchups were revealed as part of the news conference.

The much-anticipated and possibly crucial all-Edmonton battle between Kevin Martin and Randy Ferbey will be on the Wednesday afternoon draw, which also features Edmonton’s Kevin Koe versus the other pre-qualified team skipped by Ontario’s Glenn Howard.

Thursday morning features Ferbey-Howard and Martin-Koe, and Thursday night will feature Ferbey-Koe and Martin-Howard.

Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones, Calgarian Cheryl Bernard, Saskatoon’s Stefanie Lawton and Calgary’s 2006 Olympic bronze medallist Shannon Kleibrink have their feature games against each other Wednesday morning, Wednesday evening and Thursday afternoon.

As any curling fan worth his or her salt knows, the remaining squads will be known after the Road to the Roar in Prince George, B.C., which starts up pretty darned soon.

Jonesy also tells us that ticket sales are already at 134,844 for the eight-day event, and single draw tickets go on sale this Saturday.

Tickets are $50 a pop for the women’s final (Dec. 12) and the men’s final (Dec. 13), while the semifinals are $40 each. The early round-robin draws are $30 each.

For heaven’s sake, this has got to be one of the last wakeup calls for curling fans to get their butt to Edmonton, for this showdown of the ages.

“We can’t believe this event is only a month away,” said host committee woman Jackie-Rae Greening. “Probably in our lifetime we won’t have the opportunity again to watch a trials where the winners get to represent Canada on their home turf at the Olympic Games. Now it’s getting so close, it’s getting so exciting.”

The last word goes to K-Mart, who unveiled some kind of countdown road sign, along with Kleibrink, at yesterday’s newser (photo by inews880AM, click to zoom in).

“I think the level of curling has increased significantly, the curlers have been training harder and have all become better than we were four years ago,” said Martin.

“That’s going to make this event even better and hopefully is going to make Canada even better at the Olympics.”

NOTE: have you signed up to follow The Curling News Twitter account?

If not, you’ve already missed today’s info on New Brunswick’s mixed team; Stoughton and Burtnyk on their Road to the Roar (and McEwen and Gunnlaugson, too); the husband of Sandra Schmirler and his honour at carrying the Olympic Torch; and Brad Gushue as an “interesting choice” to publicize the Tim Hortons Brier… considering that he hopes to not compete in it!

Head to the page and click on “Follow” to get tuned in to the digital curling world!

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Holland takes Schmirler; Oslo measure

Barely five months after being named Executive Director of the Saskatchewan Curing Association, Regina’s Amber Holland scored a big on-ice win at the Sandra Schmirler Charity Classic.
Holland beat out 2007 world champion Kelly Scott of Kelowna 6-3 in the finale, claiming she kept things “simple” during an 8-0 undefeated run.

As for the pic above… what’s that all about?

Sunday we told you of Oskar Eriksson’s upset victory at the Oslo Cup, and predicted a team blog update on Monday. Team Eriksson did not disappoint, and posted a huge dissertation of their playoff run along with a headline we suggested – perhaps they read The Curling News Blog?

The screen capture shows the very end of the game: a thrilling, last-stone measurement for the championship win. It could have gone either way, but hometown hero Thomas Ulsrud got another silver and the young guns came away with the big prize.

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Jones, Gushue rolling early

This busy weekend of curling continues with Monday’s finals of the Sandra Schmirler Charity Classic in Regina.
Among the quarterfinalists are Calgary’s Heather Rankin (photo above) who takes on 2007 world champion Kelly Scott on Monday morning.

Our friend Pal Trulsen kept his time warp going all the way to the semifinals in Oslo, where he finally lost to heir apparent Thomas Ulsrud. In the final, Sweden’s youthful Oskar Eriksson – second and fourth at the last two world junior championships – upset Ulsrud for the men’s victory.

We’re expecting the Swedes to update their team blog sometime on Monday… probably with a headline like Vi vann! or perhaps Helige Gud! Vi slog dem alla!

The women’s crown went to Canada’s Jennifer Jones, who took out a variety of strong teams including defending Olympic champion Anette Norberg in the final. Both Oslo Cup finales ended in 5-4 scorelines.

Elsewhere in Canada, the big story is that Brad Gushue won his third tournament in a row, beating Ian Fitzner-Leblanc in the final of the Appleton Cashspiel in Halifax. The Gushues took out Canada’s 2009 world junior rep Brett Gallant in one semi, while Fitzner-Leblanc defeated 2004 Brier champ Mark Dacey in the other.

KW Fall Classic in Kitchener saw Toronto’s Julie Hastings defeat Stoney Creek’s Karen Bell 4-2 while Bradford’s Dale Matchett beat Jake Higgs of Harriston 8-7 to win the men’s crown.

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Time Warp Trulsen

It’s the early part of this weekend’s Tour action, but indications are that week three could prove to be quite… eventful.
First, France’s Thomas Dufour beats defending world champion David Murdoch and is now 3-0 in his pool at the Oslo Cup.

Second, the U.S. Olympic women’s team loses to 10-0 to Sherry Middaugh in opening draw action at the Sandra Schmirler Charity Curling Classic in Regina. In two ends. Take three, steal seven.

Finally, Norway’s Pal Trulsen (with Rocky Horror friends above) has reunited his now-retired 2002 Olympic champion squad for the Oslo Cup… and they are also undefeated at 3-0.

Wow. Talk about a Time Warp!

[Photoshop by Anil Mungal. Apologies from TCN.]

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Schmirler Golf 2009

THORNHILL, Ontario – The Sandra Schmirler Foundation was the big winner as another $30,000 was raised from a day of golf at Thornhill Golf & Country Club.
The seventh annual Sandra Schmirler Golf Classic, sponsored by curling boosters The Dominion and Capital One and convened by CBC curling talkie Mike Harris, saw 34 foursomes gather on what proved to be a day of spectacular (ie. rain-free) golf.

In the Anil Mungal photo at left, three-time world champion Glenn Howard takes a whack (click image to increase size).

Other celebrity golfers taking part included Wayne and Sherry Middaugh, the rest of Team Howard, Eddie “The Wrench” Werenich and long-time teammate Neil Harrison, and Marnie McBean, the four-time Olympic rowing medallist and Canadian sport legend.

McBean found herself on the winning foursome, teamed with curling’s Al Hanks, the Dominion marketing whiz; John Shea (whose firm delivers The Dominion’s comprehensive insurance program specifically tailored to curling venues) and David Beesley, the longtime sponsorship salesman for the Canadian Curling Association.

The event came four days after a Schmirler Foundation fundraising tournament in Winnipeg. Future Schmirler golf events are scheduled for Edmonton (August 6), Regina (August 13), and Halifax (September 17 & 18).

The Dominion and Capital One both sponsor dozens of curling events and teams. Major properties include The Dominion Curling Club Championship and the Capital One Grand Slam of Curling.

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10K for 100km

Thanks to some promotion from this here TCN Blog and an appearance this morning on CTV’s Canada AM, “The Hacks” scored another $1,000+ today to leap over their goal of $10,000 in pledges for Oxfam Canada.
Now, the hiking squad featuring world champions Craig Savill and Brent Laing (whoop-whoop photo by TCN’s Anil Mungal) merely have to complete tomorrow’s gruelling 100km trek… and then recover in time for Monday’s Sandra Schmirler Golf Classic, which will be played at Thornhill Country Club.

Congrats and thanks to the slew of curlers and curling fans who helped The Hacks achieve their goals, which currently sees them ranked third overall in fundraising. But why stop now? If you haven’t yet made a pledge of support, please head over to the team’s Trailwalker webpage!

And don’t forget, for each $100 pledge received, Team Glenn Howard will mail you a set of four autographed player cards (just send an email to teamglennhoward@hotmail.com with your name and address).

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Killer Curling Partnership

Today’s big news, that Capital One has joined the Canadian Curling Association family, is simply fabulous for the sport of curling in Canada. And for multiple reasons.

For those who have been living under a rock, Capital One is the title sponsor of the Capital One Grand Slam of Curling. To recap, the elite series of men’s and women’s cashspiels started off as a major thorn in the Canadian Curling Association’s side, but years of gradual discussions has paved the way to an informal relationship. Most recently, the Slams have been included in CCA high-performance strategy, as a valuable training and scouting ground for the association’s 2010 Olympic planning.

Now comes word that Capital One has joined the CCA sponsor family – as a supplier, officially – making them a formal member of the Season of Champions.

This is awesome on so many levels.

First, any possible notion that bitterness remains between the former foes – the CCA and the World Curling Tour and Players’ Association – simply cannot exist. The Grand Slam is the crown jewel of the Tour and Players’ Association (as owned and executed by Toronto’s Insight Sports) and Capital One now has its foot in the same door that welcomes Tim Hortons, Kruger Products (Scotties), M&M Meat Shops and more.

Second, the deal gives the CCA its first financial services partner since CIBC, which owned naming rights to the Canadian Mixed far too many years ago.

Third, Capital One’s tight relationship with the athletes – see the latest evidence of that here – will continue to rub off on the CCA, which has already made great strides in reconnecting with those who actually play the game on TV… the boob tube being, of course, the sport’s main revenue-generating vehicle and, historically, the strongest tie to the public.

Fourth, look carefully at the deal. Capital One will not sponsor a SoC championship – why would they, when they have have the Slams? – but, rather, is the host of the official credit card of Canadian curling. But there’s more… they’re also a CCA development partner, through the Rocks and Rings program.

This is very cool.

Development partners are hard to find. Because development is, in the eyes of marketers, not very sexy. Capital One, to their credit, already executes a development program, through the Slam’s “School of Rock”, in which athletes work with thrilled kids on the Slam ice surface at each event.

CCA development programs could use a shot in the arm, and perhaps Capital One is aiming to help deliver Rocks and Rings on a grander, national scale?

Fifth, allow yourself to imagine more and more rewards – starting next season, hopefully – for earning points on the Curling Platinum MasterCard

Sixth, and possibly number one in the long run, is this. The successful negotiation and confirmation of any major sports sponsorship deal – given the current economic climate – makes curling stand tall and rather proud today, even as the rest of the sports world seems to be falling apart (see also this… and this… and this).

Finally, we note that the Rocks and Rings program – which brings the world of curling to a school for a full day, and for only $150 – is not owned by the CCA, but by a third party… namely Chad McMullan, the proprietor of Rock Solid Productions. Great to see McMullan add a second venture, in addition to the Toronto-based corporate outings, to his all-curling stable of properties.

Whew. Anything else… for now, anyway?

• Here’s Women of Curling Calendar girl Chrissy Cadorin in action at yesterday’s Ontario Scotties. Odd, that Cogeco TV coverage. The OCA considers it sponsored by Scotties; the main Cogeco website considers it to be sponsored by Scotties; but there is zero mention of the sponsor on the actual broadcasts of the “2009 Ontario Women’s Curling Championship” …

Dean Ross defeated Dan “Hit Man” Petryk to grab the last spot into the Alberta provincial. The 2008 Mixed champ – who finished fifth with Susan Connor at the first World Mixed Doubles hosted in Finland last March – will make his third Alta men’s appearance. There’s more on Ross here

• Let’s hear it for the front-enders! Former second stone Robyn MacPhee beat her former skip among others to take the PEI Scotties title

• Will veteran Ontario front-ender Kim Moore – lately throwing second for Sherry Middaugh – be hanging them up after the current drive for Vancouver? Moore also talks about losing the 1997 STOH final to Sandra Schmirler, and how she still hasn’t watched the videotape of that game …

• Longtime curling bureaucrat – and high-performance competitor – Amber Holland now has the top curling job in Saskatchewan

Jay Peachey, Bryan Miki and Sean Geall are through to the BC men’s shootout… and we’ve got some rather Peachey memories, incidentally, in the February issue of The Curling News

• We’ve got more on the story of Million Dollar Button competitor Ron Trottier, courtesy of CBC Sports host Scott Russell, who has a new blog entry online

• And finally… Glow Curling isn’t really that new – we promoted its first appearance in Alberta a couple of years ago – but the photo recently taken by Troy Fleece of the Regina Leader-Post, shown here, deserves a highlight. We wanna play!

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Schmirler curling legend lives on

The Fed – the World Curling Federation – has just announced that Sandra Schmirler is the posthumous winner of the 2009 World Curling Freytag Award.

The award is given in two categories – Curler and Curler/Builder – and Schmirler, the three-time world champion and 1998 Olympic champion who died in 2000 at age 36 – is the first Canadian competitor to be inducted since Ernie Richardson, who received his award just days after Schmirler’s death that year, at the Brier in Saskatoon.

What is very cool, apart from the continued recognition of the Schmirler legacy (which of course includes the Foundation named after her) is that immediate surviving family members Shannon England – her husband – and daughters Sara and Jenna will receive Schmirler’s award at the 2009 Ford Worlds in Moncton.

Moncton just happens to be the 50th anniversary bash celebrating the world men’s championships, and a whack of famous names are being jetted in for the opening weekend, which will climax with a rather remarkable opening ceremony.

It says here that this event is not one to miss.

Have you ever thought about a present day with Sandra Schmirler still with us? What would the curling world look like if, in fact, she hadn’t passed away so tragically at such a young age?

Would she still be the best women’s curler of all time?

Would Colleen Jones have won fewer Scotties and World titles?

Would some of her teammates moved on, and tried their hand without her? According to the eulogy delivered by Brian McCusker, the husband of second rocker Joan McCusker, the asnwer is no way… the team would still be competing together “50 years from now.”

But who can say? Perhaps Schmirler would now be leading a team of young guns, as so many veteran skips seem to do these days.

Would she be the female TV commentator at CBC or TSN, as opposed to teammate McCusker? Remember, Schmirler had already appeared on CBC a few times prior to her death and was generally acknowledged to be, well, pretty good with a microphone.

There would have been books, no doubt (here and here) but would there be a park named after her in Biggar, Saskatchewan? Would there exist any of the not one but two TV documentaries? Would the official plaudits and awards be just starting to trickle in now, as she approached age 45?

One thing is certain. Schmirler’s nomination and confirmation for this award comes at a good time. And it will be simply tremendous to see her family – with the daughters now aged 11 and 9 – accept the award at the 50th anniversary Worlds.

“Back in Regina there are tons of good teams and I don’t know why we’ve been chosen to do this… And to play with your best friends is probably the best feeling in the world.”
– Sandra Schmirler, Maclean’s, February 23 1998

Elsewhere:

• Here’s another look at Joan McCusker’s 10-year anniversary blogpost on Nagano and the Schmirler curling memories, published almost a year ago …

• As for ex-teammates Jan Betker and Marcia Gudereit, they made a surprising early exit from playdowns last weekend …

• Another big women’s name to fall out of Scotties contention is 2007 world champion Kelly Scott of Kelowna, who has been eliminated prior to the B.C. provincial …

• Women of Curling calendar girl Christine Keshen – with her very nice hat – is starting a junior program at her home club in Invermere. Now that’s giving back to the sport! Congrats to Kesh on her recent engagement, too …

• Speaking of the calendar, it got a write-up and cover-paste on Rod Pedersen’s popular sports blog

• Curling got grazed by a couple of goombahs over the holidays. First came this Simple One who claims to be now “scarred for life” by curling, and then came Sportbilly24 and his declaration that curling “has gained a strong ding as one of the weirdest sports using a household appliance”. How original …

• Here’s a look at the up-and-down season of Sherry Middaugh

• And finally, CBC curling host Scott Russell ranks Brad Gushue at no. 3 on his list of young Canadian athletes to watch in 2009 …