London eyes curling trials

STEVE GREEN -- Winnipeg Free Press

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

Official word won\'t come for months, but Peter Inch is confident the word will be \"London\" for the 2005 national Olympic curling trials.

London is bidding against Kelowna, B.C.; Moncton, N.B.; Brandon, Man.; Brampton and Halifax for the competition that involves the 10 best men\'s and 10 best women\'s rinks in the country, playing for the right to represent Canada in Milan, Italy, in 2006.

The overall level of play will be superior to even the Nokia Brier and Scott Tournament of Hearts.

\"I\'ve got a feeling that unless we mess up, we have it,\" Inch, chairperson of the local bid committee, said yesterday. \"That\'s what my personal contacts in the (Canadian Curling Association) are telling me.\"

The process started when St. Thomas Curling Club held a successful national seniors championship in February 2002. With St. Thomas staging the JVC/TSN Women\'s Skins Game in December, the area is getting a reputation for top-notch organizing.

\"Before the seniors, we told the CCA, \'We\'ll show you what we can do,\' \" Inch said. \"When the seniors was over, we said, \'Now we want a major event.\' They said, \'Don\'t worry. There\'ll be one soon.\' \"

Neil Houston, manager of championship services and special programs for the CCA, said no decision will be reached before the CCA\'s annual meeting in June.

He wouldn\'t say which bids have the inside track.

\"They\'re all good curling cities. This will be purely a business decision. We\'re looking at things like a suitable arena, an entertainment facility (akin to the Brier Patch), corporate support and a location curling spectators will want to come to.\"

Jim Waite, Skins Game chairperson and vice-chairperson of the Olympic trials bid group, said London\'s bid has two big things going for it.

\"We\'ve been told ours were the most successful seniors ever and the CCA was thrilled with the way this area organized things,\" he said. \"They like London for several reasons. One is the John Labatt Centre and another is the fact there\'s no major men\'s event coming to Ontario right now. Plus the Hearts did really well this year (in Kitchener).

\"This area is very viable, not just St. Thomas. We\'re getting great co-operation from all the local clubs, including Ilderton, London, Highland and Aylmer.\"

Waite said a Brier Patch-type lounge could be set up at the convention centre, with regular shuttle service to and from the JLC.

Houston, who played second for Ed Lukowich\'s Brier and world championship rink in 1986, has visited the JLC and said it\'s a \"gorgeous\" facility and said the winning bid will need a solid volunteer base.

\"A big event like this takes a lot of commitment, but once you put the O-word (Olympic) around it, you usually don\'t have a problem getting people to volunteer.\"

Tourism London sports manager Bob Graham said landing the trials would bring to the city a \"ball park\" figure of about $2 million in direct spending (hotels, meals and shopping) for the week.

\"It\'s a huge event,\" he said, \"and I think London has a very good shot at it.\"

Meanwhile, three rinks already are determined for the JVC/TSN Women\'s Skins Game Dec. 13-14 with a total purse of at least $100,000 -- defending champion Kelley Law of New Westminster, B.C., current Canadian champion Colleen Jones of Halifax and newly crowned world champion Deb McCormick of Madison, Wis.

The fourth entry for the made-for-TV event will be determined at the JVC Classic in Winnipeg in October.

McCormick won the Southwestern Ontario Women\'s Charity Cashspiel last October. Waite said it\'s hoped McCormick, Law and Jones will play in this year\'s fundraiser for breast cancer research with the final to be played in St. Thomas.

The tentative schedule has semifinals at 12:30 and 7 p.m. Dec. 13 and a final in the afternoon Dec. 14. Seating is limited to about 800 a game.

A Web site and ticket phone line should be up and running in a couple of weeks, said ticket chairperson Ann Lapchinski.

Until then, people interested in tickets can call her at home at 633-8539.


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