Curlers chase Oly dream

JIM BENDER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:22 AM ET

For some, even talking about the possibility of becoming an Olympian was akin to touching the Grey Cup before the big game.

But now that the Canadian Curling Trials are almost upon us, Manitoba's best reps have started to wonder aloud what it would mean to win those trials in Edmonton and compete on Olympic ice.

"We didn't want to talk about it until we got to (the pre-trials in) Prince George (B.C.)," Jeff Stoughton admitted yesterday. "But the last couple of weeks have been pretty darn exciting. It's worth talking about. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, or once-every-four-years opportunity, for the athletes and certainly, we talk about what a dream and what a thrill it would be, how much fun it would be, and we want to be the happiest guys Sunday night in that final. It would be a dream-come-true."

Unhappiest team

Stoughton had the unhappiest team after the 2005 trials final, losing a squeaker to Newfoundland's Brad Gushue, the eventual Olympic gold-medal winner, and this could be his last crack at the Olympic ice cat.

"Probably. I'm not getting any younger, that's for sure," said Stoughton, 46. "So, to put the time and effort in for four more years ... "

Although Jennifer Jones will be the favourite on the women's side, the princess of on-ice drama plans to enjoy the process.

"It's not nerve-wracking," she said. "To go and play in front of that many people in that venue for the chance to go to the Olympics, that's exciting. That's what we train for. That's what we're prepared for. We just want to soak it up. It's going to be amazing. We've had a lot of success and we feel pretty happy with what we've done and obviously, going to the Olympics would top it all off. But if we don't, we've had a pretty phenomenal ride.

"To go to the Olympics anywhere in the world would be phenomenal. But here in Canada where you would be the hometown team and see all those Maple Leafs and Red and White would be an unbelievable experience. I know that any team that goes would enjoy it and hopefully, we would have a chance."

Dawn Askin, who plays lead for Jones, will be curling in her very first trials.

"Obviously, you think about it (Olympics)," she said. "But it's a tough field and we'll have to go out there and play our best, and hopefully, good things will happen."

Jon Mead, who left Stoughton the year after the dramatic loss to Gushue, will be playing third for Ontario's Wayne Middaugh in Edmonton.

"(Going to the Olympics) would be the only thing that would compare to the more important things in life as far as the 'wow' factor," Mead said.

Another "wow" factor would be if Jason Gunnlaugson's young guns somehow smoked the field and, in a rather strange twist, Stoughton declared that the youngster actually has a chance.

'Cause some havoc'

"There's no doubt that Jason is going to get in there and cause some havoc," said Stoughton, who had pronounced that Gushue had "no chance" before the last trials. "He's going to be a crowd favourite and will have lots of fun out there. He loves the game and if they get on a roll, you just never know."

The pressure is on the other seven squads, Gunnlaugson suggested.

"If you're kind of under the radar, there's a lot less pressure on you than some of the guys who are in it for the last time and have been obsessing over it for years," he said. "I think we have a different perspective and hopefully, we can use that to our advantage."

The final countdown to their Olympic dreams starts Sunday.

jim.bender@sunmedia.ca

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BENDER'S PICKS

Olympic Curling Trials, Dec. 6-13, at Rexall Place, Edmonton

MEN

1. Kevin Martin, Alberta (2-1) ... home-ice edge only if he doesn't throw games away

2. Glenn Howard, Ontario (3-1) ... covets big brother's gold

3. Jeff Stoughton, Manitoba (5-1) ... determined to erase bitter Gushue memory

4. Randy Ferbey, Alberta (8-1) ... legend's last Olympic hurrah?

5. Wayne Middaugh, Ontario (12-1) ... Manitoba flavour helps

6. Kevin Koe, Alberta (20-1) ... the sleeper

7. Pat Simmons, Saskatchewan (30-1) ... Great White Sodbuster Hope

8. Jason Gunnlaugson, Manitoba (50-1) ... no chance?

WOMEN

1. Jennifer Jones, Manitoba (2-1) ... hottest one there

2. Shannon Kleibrink, Alberta (3-1) ... the danger

3. Kelly Scott, B.C. (5-1) ... Jones nemesis

4. Stefanie Lawton, Saskatchewan (8-1) ... motivated by mother's death

5. Cheryl Bernard, Alberta (12-1) ... Cowgirl could ride to top

6. Krista McCarville, Ontario (20-1) ... the dark mare

7. Crystal Webster, Alberta (30-1) ... could surprise

8. Amber Holland, Saskatchewan (50-1) ... in dutch here


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