Ghosts and goblins

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:53 AM ET

HALIFAX -- Eight years ago, Shannon Kleibrink became the instantly forgotten loser of the first 'Roar of the Rings' Olympic Trial final.

She did not go to Nagano for the first full-medal status appearance of curling in the Olympic Winter Games, missing it because of an eighth-end circus shot by Sandra Schmirler.

Schmirler The Curler, with rinkmates Jan Betker, Joan McCusker and Marcia Gudereit, went on to win Canada's first and only Olympic curling gold medal.

Schmirler became one of the most-loved athletes in Canadian sports history before her death of cancer shortly after delivering a baby. Her story saddened the nation like few other previous passings of sporting legends.

It was Kleibrink who volunteered to skip Schmirler's old rink and failed to even qualify for the 'Roar of the Rings' Trials and a trip to the Olympics she missed four years earlier and a return trip for Schmirler's rinkmates.

WIN OR GO HOME

This morning it's Kleibrink vs. Schmirler's former rinkmates. Unlike eight years ago, the winner won't go to the Olympics - the loser goes home. For the loser, the dream probably dies.

You don't want three losses after four games and it's going to happen to either Kleibrink's Calgary crew or Schmirler's Regina rink, skipped by Betker in her memory for one last run at Olympic glory.

Kleibrink, who opened with a win in her first game, gassed two leads to slip to 1-2 out of the gate.

She suffered from Big Gulp syndrome in giving up three in the 10th end lost 9-8 to Kelly Scott of B.C. in an extra end.

Yesterday, she led Jennifer Jones of Winnipeg 6-4 after six and lost 8-7 in an extra end.

Betker lost her first two Saturday but bounced back with a 9-2 win over Marie-France Larouche of Quebec.

Sherry Middaugh of Ontario escaped Day 2 with the only unbeaten record. Favorites Jennifer Jones and local heroine Colleen Jones went into today with 2-1 records. Also at 2-1 are Saskatchewan's Sherry Anderson and Stefanie Lawton, along with B.C.'s Scott. But there will be a real focus on Betker-Kleibrink this morning.

McCusker works as a CBC color commentator when she isn't curling. She's scheduled to do the men's final Sunday and she hopes not the women's semi-final Friday, speaks to the situation better than any other member of the rink.

It's not something they want to think about. And yet it's not something they don't want to think about, she says.

"It's never going to go away. You don't want it to go away.

"At the same time, this is a whole different team. The game, with the four-rock rule, has changed dramatically. We were the lean, green, peeling machine from Saskatchewan. And now we're older. A lot older.

'EMOTIONAL ROLLER-COASTER'

"With Sandra, we rode the emotional roller-coaster. But we don't do that now. What used to work doesn't work anymore. We have different strengths now than we used to have.''

That said, she admits, it's impossible to continue to chase the dream, as they are perhaps chasing it for the final time, without Sandra's voice being there somewhere.

"I think we've dealt with all the demons and I think we'd be foolish to think we wouldn't have to deal with some of the haunts. We're wearing Sandra on our shoulder and she'd be loving it, too.''

Even at 1-2?

Both Betker's and Kleibrink's rinks are trying to tell themselves the game against each other today doesn't carry any extra baggage.

Kleibrink, who held the media up for 20 minutes while she talked to her coach said she thought she was playing Middaugh this morning. No, that would be Wednesday.

"We can't worry about any other stuff,'' said Betker.

"We're very good friends,'' said McCusker. "I guess at this point it doesn't matter who you play.

"We're both in 'C' event now,'' she said. "We're bonspeilers. We've both been in 'C' event early and won the bonspeil.''


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