Middaugh's trials and tribulations

Back in the day when curling first gained its full-medal status at the Olympics, Wayne Middaugh was...

Back in the day when curling first gained its full-medal status at the Olympics, Wayne Middaugh was at the top of his game. (Sun Media/Chris Procaylo)

CON GRIWKOWSKY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:35 AM ET

Wayne Middaugh would like to set the record straight.

Not only his own record of flat performances at previous Olympic trials.

The record of how his words were torqued during his last appearance at Rexall Place.

It was back in 2005, his last Brier appearance as Ontario skip.

Middaugh's audacity in stating the obvious, that Randy Ferbey's team was "professional" since they had quit their day jobs to curl full-time, was met with perplexing derision in some quarters.

"Hey, I worked four hard days before coming here to curl," said Middaugh from Brantford, Ont., where he made it to yesterday's semifinal in his last warmup spiel before heading to Edmonton.

"Probably if anything I'm a bit jealous his team can do that. I wish I could curl for a living," added Middaugh, chief operating officer and general manager of the Port Carling Golf and Country Club.

OK, so it kills a juicy 'bitter rivals' angle when the teams meet each other Sunday, Dec. 6, to kick off the Roar of the Rings. But, hey, it is what it is.

"We'll see," Middaugh said about his schedule. "We've got a tough start to our week -- Ferbey, (Kevin) Martin and (Glenn) Howard. That's more than a handful. If we can go 1-2, that would be good. If we go 2-1, that would be outstanding."

Back in the day when curling first gained its full-medal status at the Olympics, Middaugh was at the top of his game.

At the 1997 trials in Brandon, Man., he was an overwhelming favourite to wear the Maple Leaf at Nagano, Japan.

Finished 3-6. Later won the 1998 world championship.

On to Regina in 2001. Finished 2-9 and won a Grand Slam event the weekend after.

"We just didn't play well," said Middaugh.

"In Brandon, we were struggling ... things didn't go our way. The same thing happened in Regina. I couldn't hit the class (pro) side of the rock. I felt bad for my team because I played so badly."

When his team could not qualify for the 2005 trials, he had a different perch as fifth man for Glenn Howard.

"It sure did (help)," said Middaugh, who still curls with Howard every Tuesday. "You see it from a different perspective. I'm grateful Glenn helped me see a different aspect of it."

Both Middaugh and Howard cut their teeth with the dominant team skipped by Russ Howard and were part of his 1993 world championship team.

"I've been lucky enough to play with some of the best who have ever played the game," said Middaugh. "Russ, Glenn, Graeme McCarrel, Ian Tetley (who won three world titles with three different skips)," said Middaugh.

Not to mention lead Scott Bailey, who's been with him 14 seasons.

After being shut out in 2005, Middaugh changed his lineup for this cycle.

Third Jon Mead joined the team in March 2007 and John Epping came in at second.

"Jon's a great player and John gives us a bit more energy," said Middaugh, who has no trouble stating how big the stakes will be in Edmonton.

"The Olympics are the biggest thing in the game."

Watching Howard win the gold medal at Torino with Brad Gushue must have provided some inspiration.

The third time may prove to be luckier for Middaugh and it would be a pretty good bet he'll do better than the combined 5-13 in his first two trials.

If the curling gods would like to pay Middaugh back, he's fine with that. If not ...

"When the Olympics are on, each and every day I'm cheering for Canada," said Middaugh. "Whether it's curling, bobsledding or skiing. Hey, I was born and raised in Toronto and I still cheer for the Leafs."

Now that's loyalty, above and beyond, to the Maple Leaf.

CON.GRIWKOWSKY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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