Roar of the Rings grows louder

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:34 AM ET

For the rest of the host country, yesterday was the first day of the 100-day countdown to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

For Edmonton, it was the beginning of the final countdown to the event which in so many ways will be bigger than the actual curling event at the Olympics itself.

In no other nation or sport is there anything which can compare to the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings event which is now one month away.

"It's hard to explain," said Torino 2006 bronze medal winner Shannon Kleibrink at an outdoor ceremony on the bridge over 118th Ave., which will link the 5,000-seat 'Keith's Patch' at the new Edmonton Expo Centre at Northlands to Rexall Place for the Dec. 6-13 event.

"At the Olympics you are playing for a bigger prize. But this is a bigger event. It was that way four years ago and it's especially going to be that way this time. It's a bigger building. There will be far more fans. As an actual event it's just bigger. It seems strange to say, but it is. And this time it's about getting to the Olympics in your own country."

Yesterday's ceremonies were all about kicking off the final push toward making the Roar of the Rings the same sort of success story as the 2005 Brier which set an all-time curling attendance record of 281,985 and the 2007 Worlds which did the same for that event with 184,970.

That's pretty much built-in with this one, with ticket sales already at 134,844 for the more compact 18-draw, eight-day event which brings the top eight men's and women's teams into a round-robin format. The top teams advance to the final and the second and third place teams go to a semifinal.

The record of 159,235, set four years ago in Halifax, likely won't last much past the weekend with the announcement yesterday that single draw tickets go on sale Saturday. Tickets are $50 a pop for the women's final (Dec. 12) and the men's final (Dec. 13), while the semifinals are $40 each. While many of the early $30-a-draw round robin match-ups won't be made until the Road to the Roar event in Prince George is held next week to qualify the final four men's and women's teams, many of the late week matchups were revealed as part of the press conference.

The much-anticipated and possibly crucial all-Edmonton Kevin Martin-Randy Ferbey match will be on the Wednesday afternoon draw, which also features Edmonton's Kevin Koe versus the other qualified team skipped by Coldwater, Ont.'s Glenn Howard.

Thursday morning features Ferbey-Howard and Martin-Koe, and Thursday night will feature Ferbey-Koe and Martin-Howard.

Winnipeg's Jennifer Jones, Calgarian Cheryl Bernard, Saskatoon's Stefanie Lawton and Kleibrink have their feature games against each other Wednesday morning, Wednesday evening and Thursday afternoon.

It was also announced that remaining tickets for the Sunday 11 a.m. opening ceremonies and 1 p.m. opening draw to follow will be available for $15 with all fans urged to wear Canadian red and white for the occasion.

"We can't believe this event is only a month away," said host committee woman Jackie-Rae Greening. "Probably in our lifetime we won't have the opportunity again to watch a trials where the winners get to represent Canada on their home turf at the Olympic Games. Now it's getting so close, it's getting so exciting."

It's worked different for the curlers.

"We've been waiting for this for such a long time," said Kleibrink. "I just want to get on the ice. We've been planning for four years. If we're not ready now, we're not going to be ready a month from now."

Edmonton's Kevin Martin, a silver medal winner in Salt Lake 2002, said in retrospect the onerous qualifying setup which forced Canada's elite teams to go hard and compete almost every weekend of the curling season to get to this point worked well.

"Far better than before. The four teams who got through were the top four teams. I think the next 12 who are going to Prince George are pretty much the next 12, although you could argue if there should be 12.

"I think the level of curling has increased significantly, the curlers have been training harder and have all become better than we were four years ago. That's going to make this event even better and hopefully is going to make Canada even better at the Olympics."

TERRY.JONES@SUNMEDIA.CA


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