Headed for Olys

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:19 AM ET

At least one member of Manitoba's curling fraternity will be making an official trip to Turin.

Rob Meakin, who played second for Kerry Burtnyk when he won the 1995 world championship, will accompany American women's champion Cassie Johnson to next month's Olympics in Italy as the U.S. Curling Association's athletic development director.

"We'll actually be working as one big team but primarily, I'm going to be responsible for Cassie," Meakin told the Sun's Kirk Penton recently.

Meakin, who retired before Burtnyk did, worked with Johnson at last year's women's world championship in Scotland. Now he will get a taste of the Turin Olympics.

"It's going to be a great experience," Meakin said. "And it's such a good young team to work with. They're like sponges. It's just an honour to be part of it."

As the Sun first reported, Johnson will play Canada's Olympic-bound Shannon Kleibrink in an exhibition match during Sunday's semifinals of the Grand Slam's $100,000 BDO Classic Canadian Open at MTS Centre.

"Any time you can get on some arena ice and play a quality team like that, it can only help you," Kleibrink said from Calgary. "It should be great. We've been at some of the same spiels together but never had the opportunity to play her. So, it will be good to play her before the Olympics."

Kleibrink's squad, by the way, recently got permanent Olympic tattoos.

"Everybody's been asking to see it," she said. "I'm just glad I put it on my ankle."

MCT WOES: The MCA needs to re-examine the zone playdown setup for its Scott Tournament of Hearts, Bob Picken suggested yesterday. The Manitoba Curling Tour's event co-ordinator has been frustrated in attempts to draw more women to the MCT championships in Swan River this weekend.

"We don't have a (provincial) berth to dangle before them," he said. "And when you've got just two teams playing in one zone or a team winning a zone uncontested, then there's something wrong with the zone arrangement."

And the MCT would be happy to offer a more legitimate route to the provincials. With such a carrot, it could lure many more teams.

The MCT awards a Safeway Select spot to its men's champion (although there could be a playoff for this year's berth).

To make matters worse, the MCT lost the perk of awarding a Canada Cup West Bonspiel spot to both its men's and women's winner because it was cancelled this season year and the CCA has yet to decide whether to revive it next year.

Picken also admitted that the location was part of the problem, as only four women's teams have entered the championship, which will cut the winner's prize to $2,500.

Meanwhile, 24 men's teams will be vying for the $7,000 first-place prize and a chance to play Valour Road's Brent Braemer for the available Select spot, if eligible.

BITERS: Burtnyk will be honoured with an Ambassador Award during Friday night's draw of the Slam ... Ontario's Wayne Middaugh withdrew from the Winnipeg Slam because it conflicted with a regional qualifier playoff and he faced suspension next season if he passed on it ... At least 350 teams have entered the MCA's 118th Annual Bonspiel, with the deadline looming tomorrow. The MCA is capping entries at 448.

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HOUSE CLEANING

Valour Road's former junior men's provincial champion Reid Carruthers beat clubmate Sean Grassie 8-5 in the final of the Manitoba Curling Tour's Labatt Fort Rouge Christmas Spiel, winning $2,900. Grassie got $1,900.

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COMING UP

Masters men's and women's zones started yesterday, while the Safeway Select city and some rural zone playdowns begin Monday.


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