New trials format unpopular

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 11:57 AM ET

REGINA -- Now that the Canadian Curling Association finally made its new format for qualifying for the next Olympic trials official yesterday, it was not met with enthusiasm from the elite curlers.

As the Sun first revealed in December, both the men's and women's field will be reduced to eight teams (from 10) with a triple knockout pre-qualifying tourney to determine the final four in October or November of 2009.

The first four will be determined by their results at the respective national championships, the Canada Cup, the Players' Championship and the Canadian Team Ranking System, but will need to win multiple championships to become the first four.

"I like it and I don't like it," said Newfoundland's Olympic gold-medallist Brad Gushue, whose team is being honoured at the Brier this week. "We've had three Olympic trials now and we've (men) won two silver and a gold. So, you look at it from the standpoint, 'If it's not broke, don't fix it.'

"The new process is fair, or reasonably fair. It's going to be a little more difficult for eastern teams to qualify with the CTRS playing such a big role in it and the only reason I say that is because it heavily favours the western teams where there's so many events. We're about the only eastern team that travels. We spent $65,000 each of the last two years to travel and not a lot of teams can afford to do that."

QUALIFYING

Although the new system was set up to prevent a second or third-place finisher from qualifying for the trials, it can still happen.

"You can do it if you win the CTRS (spot) by finishing second enough," Gushue suggested. "So, it didn't eliminate that. In this pre-qualifying thing, you have 12 teams and four come out so, you don't have to win it, you just have to finish in the top four."

Gushue's own recommendations were not accepted.

"The only concern I have is that for whomever those last 12 teams are, you're playing in a huge event a month before the trials to get to the trials," said Manitoba skip Jeff Stoughton. "So, I wouldn't put very good odds on someone coming out of that 12. I don't know why they had to push it into '09. At least this year, everyone knew by March who the teams were."

Nova Scotia skip Colleen Jones, who is working for CBC here, prefers a springtime trials.

"December gives a team two months to get ready for the biggest tournament of their lives," she said. "To me, that isn't enough time. It should be decided in the spring or even November would make more sense."

The argument is that a springtime trials would conflict with NHL playoffs, reducing the availability of rinks.

"It's time we started looking at our sport as bigger than that," Jones said. "You're going to draw a million people to curling, whether the Stanley Cup playoffs are on or not. And in three years' time, you might get two million."

Competing in a 12-team qualifying tourney would also be exhausting, she predicted.

"That would be awful to go through something that because then you've won your own mini-Olympic trials, then you'll be asked to go do it again," she said.


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