A world of difference

BARRE CAMPBELL -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:05 AM ET

Curling has some great rivalries. Randy Ferbey vs. Wayne Middaugh.

Jennifer Jones vs. Jenn Hanna.

Australia vs. New Zealand.

Yes, even the folks Down Under are getting into the curling wars.

It used to be that Hugh Millikin, an Ottawa native who moved to Australia and brought curling with him to the land of kangaroos and koalas, got a free pass into the world curling championship.

But those days are gone.

Competition in his qualifying area for the worlds -- the Pacific zone -- is tougher now, with teams from New Zealand, Korea, Japan and China making progress in the sport.

KIWIS CHALLENGE

New Zealand skip Sean Becker has the upper hand on Millikin lately, with wins in the Pacific Curling Championship final in two straight years.

"Over the last six or seven years, it's been a close battle between us. We seem to get him in the round robin, but he comes up and gets us in the final games, " said Millikin who's back in town competing with his Australian team at the City of Ottawa International Bonspiel.

Millikin qualified for the worlds in Victoria next month despite finishing second to the Kiwis at the Pacific event. It will be his first trip to the worlds since 1998, after seven consecutive trips to the tournament.

He's hoping his team, which includes Ian Palangio, John Theriault and Steve Johns, will advance to the playoffs. If it gets there, Millikin believes that result will be enough to qualify his team to compete at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Italy, which would mark a first for Australia since curling became an official medal sport in 1998 at the Nagano Games.

New Zealand also qualified for the worlds, so Millikin is looking to get some revenge against his rivals in Victoria.

Millikin's all-time record at the worlds is 19-44 and he has never reached the playoffs. He wants to change that this year.

"If you look at the field, there is a couple of games that you're not counting on winning, and a couple of games that you want to make sure you don't lose,'' he said. ''Other than that, in the middle of the pack, we've got a pretty good chance against a lot of the teams. We know them pretty well.''

Canada will be represented by Randy Ferbey, whose Edmonton team is viewed as one of the best in curling history.

THROWS THIRD ROCKS

Like Ferbey, Millikin throws third rocks on his team, allowing Palangio to deliver the fourth stones.

But that's where the similarities end.

"Watching them on TV, it's just an awesome team," Millikin said of Ferbey's squad. "They're very impressive and strong everywhere.

''Canada always has a strong team, and it's never going to be an easy game."

Millikin is 0-7 all-time at the worlds against Canadian teams, but hopes to get his first win this year.

He remembers beating Ferbey once -- with skip Dave Van Dine in the championship game of the 1986 Canadian mixed championship in Kamloops, B.C.

The City of Ottawa bonspiel continues today and ends this evening with the Grand Aggregate championship games at the Ottawa Curling Club on O'Connor St. at 6:30.

A $25,000 draw to the button contest will be held following tonight's matches.

barre.campbell@ott.sunpub.com


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