Rizzo rink will try to draw Olympic berth

STEVE GREEN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 12:25 PM ET

In two weeks, the wait will be over for Jo-Ann Rizzo. And the toughest women's curling competition in the world will begin.

Rizzo and her Brant Curling Club rink of Cheryl McPherson of Toronto and Strathroy residents Kim Tuck and Sara Gatchell will be one of 10 teams competing Dec. 3-11 in Halifax at the Olympic trials. At stake is a spot in the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy.

Rizzo, a former Londoner who now lives in Brantford, agreed such a chance may never come her way again.

"It's a huge opportunity," she said.

"That's why we've worked so hard to get where we are, so we'd have no regrets."

Rizzo will find out right away what her chances are as she faces three of the big names -- three-time Ontario champion Sherry Middaugh of Coldwater, defending Canadian champion Jennifer Jones of Winnipeg and five-time national champion Colleen Jones of Halifax -- in her first three games.

"Bring it on," Rizzo said, welcoming the idea she's not considered a favourite. "That's fine by me. I don't mind slipping under the radar."

Tuck agreed. "The nice thing is a lot of the other teams will be in the media spotlight and that'll take all the pressure off of us. Hopefully, we'll turn around at the end and have a lot of media around. . . . We've won."

With the gold-medal game in Turin on Feb. 2 * -- only two days before the Scott Tournament of Hearts opens at the John Labatt Centre -- whoever wins the trials could face a decision over their provincial playdowns. (Jennifer Jones has to be in London as defending champion, but doesn't have to enter the Manitoba playdowns.)

"Obviously, the Hearts being in London is an awesome opportunity," Tuck said, "but we'll play it by ear. Most of our focus has been on the trials because the Olympics are the ultimate in any sport.

"But it'll be a good problem to have."

Having clinched their trials berth last December, the rink has had plenty of time to get ready. Tuck said a lot of time was spent over the summer working on getting stronger, especially mentally.

"The hardest part has been that wait," Tuck said. "We have to try to make sure not to overdo it or underdo the preparation. The curling part is the easy part, the mental and physical preparation is what will carry you through that week."

While the team's cashspiel finishes haven't been the best this season, that's understandably not its main priority. However, a runner-up finish to Jennifer Jones in last weekend's Labatt Cashspiel in Duluth, Minn. -- worth $1,788 -- is a sign they're on the right track.

Around the house

The ninth annual Curl for the Cure women's charity bonspiel is today at the London Curling Club. Proceeds from entry fees, pledges and a silent auction will be donated to the Rethink Breast Cancer Charitable Organization to support breast cancer research at the London Regional Cancer Centre. To date, the event has raised $187,000 for breast cancer research . . . Junior men's and junior women's zone playdowns are on this weekend at Welland (13), Kincardine (14), Ingersoll (15) and Ilderton (16). The A and B winners from these zones advance to regional playdowns the following weekend at Ripley . . . Kirk Ziola of Ilderton finished in the quarter-finals of last weekend's I Love NY Open in Utica, N.Y. The $2,976 he earned gives his rink $10,996 in season earnings, good for 34th on the World Curling Tour . . . Stacey Brandwood of Ilderton beat Christine Pierce of Unionville 7-2 in the final of the St. Marys Creamery Spiel, winning $1,450.


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