Curler's up for trials

BARRE CAMPBELL -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 6:54 AM ET

Mike Harris pretty much has the market cornered when it comes to having flexible job hours. As a colour analyst on the CBC's curling broadcasts, he's expected to show up for work during all major championships.

Except the ones in which he might be playing.

Seems like a far-fetched scenario, but one that's quite possible if Harris qualifies for next winter's Olympic trials by winning this week's Canada Cup East cashspiel at the Ottawa and Rideau clubs.

The scene nearly played out last year at the Brier when Harris, the Ontario champ for the first time in his career, came within one win of qualifying for the playoff round. Had he reached the playoffs, the CBC would have needed to find a replacement.

Goes to show there's no big gap between the broadcast booth and the playing field, but Harris says his focus is on the ice, not behind the mike.

"We're trying to qualify for the trials," he said. "My main goal is to try to remain competitive because I don't play as much as I used to play."

That rust might have been evident yesterday during his team's first game of the cashspiel, a 7-4 setback to Sudbury's Mike Jakubo.

Not the kind of start to which Harris is accustomed in Ottawa.

The three-time Welton Beauchamp winner won Ottawa's big cashspiel in 1996 to qualify for the inaugural Olympic trials that were held in Brandon, Man., prior to the 1998 Nagano Games.

A virtual unknown to most curling fans outside of Ontario at the time, Harris got on a major roll and beat Kevin Martin in the championship to earn his ticket to Japan.

'UNDER THE RADAR'

"Getting to the trials and winning them are two different things," he said yesterday. "Everyone's going to have a chance, but there's going to be some favourites. I guess we were a bit under the radar when you look back."

Thrust into the national spotlight at the Olympics, Harris cruised through the round-robin portion, but caught a nasty flu prior to the gold-medal game and settled for silver after a loss to Switzerland.

Since Nagano, life has changed. He has three kids all under the age of four -- and still manages to find time to duck out and compete on the cash tour.

His teammates that helped win last year's Ontario title -- John Base, Phil Loevenmark and Trevor Wall -- are an entirely different crew from the cast that joined him on the trek to Japan.

And, of course, there's the CBC gig -- in addition to his real job as a golf pro at a new course north of Toronto -- that has become an interesting vocation in itself.

No matter where Harris travels for cashspiels, he answers questions about the new broadcast deal between the Canadian Curling Association and the CBC, a controversial pact that broke a love affair between curling fans and TSN.

The CCA heard complaints that the CBC's on-air crew of Don Wittman, Joan McCusker and Harris wouldn't be able to match the work done by TSN's Vic Rauter, Linda Moore and Ray Turnbull.

"We have big shoes to fill," said Harris. "Ray, Linda and Vic did a great job ... We know where the bar has been set by TSN. We really have to do a good job, and hopefully that's what people are going to see."

Other notable results from yesterday's opening-day action: Anne Merklinger downed Vicki Marianchuk of Toronto 8-2, Cheryl McBain beat Cathy Cummingham of Newfoundland 7-5, and Chantal Osborne of Gatineau downed P.E.I.'s Rebecca-Jean MacPhee 10-9.

The tournament continues with five draws today at the Ottawa (O'Connor St.) and Rideau (Percy St.) clubs.

barre.campbell@ott.sunpub.com


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