Low-key experience for champs

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:13 PM ET

MEDICINE HAT — They’re the Brier winners. And they’re the world champions.

And they come here to the first Season of Champions event of the curling season, the first event with the TSN cameras in the house, and they’re second bananas?

Jeff Stoughton of Winnipeg, who won two Briers and the world championship in 1996, said he can see how it might be a different deal for a world champion in an Olympic year, especially when both teams play out of the same rink in the same town.

“It would be weird coming back and not being as celebrated,” said Stoughton, after handing Koe his first loss of the event after a 3-0 start.

“It might give you more to prove, actually. I remember the year when we were defending world champions, we felt we had to prove we were worthy and nobody won the Olympics that year.”

Did they get cheated by winning it on the wrong year?

“If we feel that way, then we should have won the Olympic trials,” said Carter Rycroft, second on Kevin Koe’s championship team.

“If nothing else, it just shows you how there’s no longer any question that the Olympics have become the biggest thing in this sport,” added the 33-year-old curler who won a silver medal with Edmonton’s Kevin Martin at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Winter Games after winning the Brier in 2001.

“Maybe it isn’t quite the same as it would be on a non-Olympic year, especially if the world championships had been in Canada and we’d been on television for hours and hours, like Glenn Howard and those guys at the Worlds in Edmonton in 2007.

“But we’re still world champions. And, the truth is that we still have something to prove. There are two teams that I feel are still ahead of us, Kevin Martin and Glenn Howard.

“Until we prove to ourselves and everybody else that we have become better than those guys, we have a challenge ahead and I think that’s a good thing.

“It’s good to be Brier and world champions and still feel you have a challenge ahead,” said Rycroft.

Winners of the Brier in Halifax before Kevin Martin won gold and Cheryl Bernard won silver at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, Koe won the world championship in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy after the five-ring circus.

There’s no feeling slighted in any way if you talk to members of the team as they chase their first big cheque of a season in which they’ve only played five events, winning two, finishing runner up once and losing in the semi-finals in the other two.

Koe, who spent the last four years based in Grande Prairie and has now been transfered to Calgary, says maybe the gold medal winners out of the same Edmonton club are the glory gang on the property with their Olympic gold, but he has no complaints.

In fact, he says, it’s a pretty good feeling at this event this week with the likes of four-time world champion Randy Ferbey here in addition to other world-champion skips Martin, Howard, Stoughton, Jennifer Jones and Kelly Scott in the event.

“They know how hard it is to do it,” he said.

And the thing is, as far as they’re all concerned, it’s all been an excellent experience.

“It’s been great,” said lead Nolan Theissen.

“We didn’t play in front of seven million people like Martin when he won the Olympics. But playing in front of 1.6 million at the Brier was still pretty good. We’ve been invited to a lot of events. And to me just getting an e-mail from Ernie Richardson alone was something to treasure,” he said of the four-time Brier winner.

“It’s all been pretty cool.”

Third Blake MacDonald said it’s hard to imagine it being any better.

“It’s been awesome. Fantastic. As far as I’m concerned, everyone has treated us like world champions.

“It’s been great fun. We’ve definitely enjoyed it. Maybe enjoyed it too much,” he said, patting a bit of a bulge in his stomach.

And there’s been a payoff, too.

Koe and crew won a Brier and a Worlds and didn’t make a dime. But now they’ve joined Martin, Ferbey (with Olympic gold medal winner Brad Gushue), Howard and Stoughton as teams essentially having their expenses covered when they start the season.

“We’ve doubled our sponsorship,” said Koe.

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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