To Turin via Winnipeg

TED WYMAN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 12:29 PM ET

Although Winnipeg will not be represented on the Canadian curling teams in Turin, Italy, there are plenty of Olympic curlers who spend enough time here to call it a second home.

Over the last month, the American Olympic teams have spent almost as much time in Winnipeg as they have in their home base of Bemidji, Minn.

And why not? The city sometimes known as the curling capital of the world is only four hours away, and it boasts some of continent's best curlers and curling facilities.

So it's little surprise to see American skip Pete Fenson's team competing in the 118th annual MCA Bonspiel with his trip to the Olympics less than three weeks away.

"We've been lucky to be this close forever," said Fenson, 37, who is competing in his fifth MCA Bonspiel. "We've been coming to Winnipeg every year since I was a kid. We play here as many times as we can each year."

Fenson and teammates Shawn Rojeski, Joe Polo, John Shuster and Scott Baird (fifth) are actually playing their second event in Winnipeg this month. They also appeared at the Grand Slam's Canadian Open at the MTS Centre.

PIECE-OF-CAKE DRIVE

Meanwhile, the American women's Olympic team, skipped by Bemidji's Cassie Johnson, also spent two weekends in the Manitoba capital this month. They appeared in an exhibition game against Canada's Shannon Kleibrink at the Canadian Open and in the MCA women's bonspiel. Both the Johnson and Fenson teams are advised by Winnipegger Rob Meakin, who is the U.S. Curling Association's athletic development director.

"Four hours away and it's a piece-of-cake drive," Fenson said. "Why wouldn't we come here?"

"We kinda started backward from the Games when we drew up our schedule, and we saw that this was two weeks prior to our leaving for Italy, and we thought it was perfect."

The New Zealand Olympic team, which includes Grunthal native Lorne De Pape, is also competing in the MCA Bonspiel, which will add to the Winnipeg influence on the Turin Games. Fenson said it's no shock to see Olympic teams targeting the MCA as a place to get their games in gear.

"It's our last event before the Games, so we look at it as a final tuneup where we can play a few games, play loose and have a little fun at the same time," said Fenson.

It's actually quite remarkable that a community the size of Bemidji has spawned two Olympic teams.

"The area is about 40,000 people," Fenson said. "Only half of my team and half the girls' team are actually from Bemidji, but still it's quite a thing that two Olympic teams are based in the same city. We take great pride in our curling in Bemidji."

Fenson has appeared in the world curling championship four times and lost twice in the semifinal, including last year when he had an 8-3 round-robin record.

A medal of any colour is a possibility in Turin.

"You're always shooting for a medal," Fenson said. "We figure if we can get seven or eight wins in the round-robin, that's pretty good."


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