Cross-border coaching

TED WYMAN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 11:36 AM ET

PAISLEY, Scotland -- Rob Meakin, like many Winnipeggers, dreams about seeing Team Canada's Jennifer Jones in the final of the world women's curling championship. Only his dream doesn't end quite the same way as everyone else's.

You see, in his vision the Canadians will be losing to a team from the United States, of all places.

Now before you go thinking Meakin, a former Canadian and world champion, is a turncoat, an explanation is in order.

The 40-year-old, who played second for Kerry Burtnyk for many years, is here in Scotland working at his new job as assistant athlete development director and assistant national coach for USA Curling.

NEW ALLEGIANCE

That means Meakin, who has been on the job for a few months, has a new allegiance at this year's world championship.

"I've got some ties to the Canadian team, so it would be great to see them in the final, but I'd like to see the U.S. win," Meakin said yesterday at the Lagoon Leisure Centre.

"A couple of the Canadian players were in Brandon at the worlds (when Meakin was there with Burtnyk) and (Team Canada lead) Cathy Gauthier is the godmother to my daughter. I would love that situation, though. I think that would be a great final."

He might love that situation, but the Canadians would sure find it strange to see an old buddy cheering for the other team.

"It's all wrong, it's all wrong," Gauthier joked.

Meakin, who is the assistant to Canadian curling great Ed Lukowich with USA Curling, is working closely here with Cassie Johnson's U.S. foursome, which hails from Bemidji, Minn.

The team, with four players under the age of 25, has already earned the right to represent the U.S. at the 2006 Winter Olympics, and Meakin is enjoying working with such a young, enthusiastic group.

"It's different, but I like being part of growing the sport in the United States," he said. "The bigger the game gets there, the better for everybody involved in the game.

"Cassie Johnson has a great young team, and the future looks really good for them. They are mature beyond their years. From what I've seen, they can compete with anybody, and they have proven it. They were world junior champions."

Meakin, 40, works part-time for USA Curling while holding down a full-time gig at electronic component distributor Chip-Tech Ltd., in Winnipeg. His employer not only supports his side venture, but has actually become a sponsor for the men's and women's U.S. national teams.

His position has him on the road more than usual, which isn't ideal for his wife Nadine and his two children, but his family is understanding, especially considering he gave up playing the game to be with them.

That's right, a few years ago Meakin walked away from competitive curling, even though he played on one of the country's finest teams.

"I know I made the right decision," he said. "I did lose my passion to play with the commitment that's needed. You need that fire to go out there and play every weekend, and it was time for me to take a step back and spend more time with my family."

Well, he never stepped back completely, first developing a high-performance program for the Wildewood Club and now taking on this new venture.

"I'm definitely excited about this, and you get the same sort of feeling as when you are playing," said Meakin, who could end up working at the Olympics next year. "I don't think you ever lose the will to want to win. I've got a different role now and that's to help the team in any way I can to make them champions."


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