New trials rules get the nod

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:48 AM ET

EDMONTON - They like it!

A brand new format has been produced to provide Canada's curling teams for the Sochi 2014 Olympics, and the curlers who brought gold and silver medals back from Vancouver 2010 both think it's terrific.

"They listened to the curlers," said Olympic silver medal winner Cheryl Bernard of Calgary.

"I think they listened a bit to everybody," said Olympic gold medal winner Kevin Martin of Edmonton.

"The last time was a debacle, for sure. It was so complicated, I couldn't explain it to family members and sponsors, even.

"They'd call and say, 'How are we doing?' And it would take me 20 minutes to tell them, 'OK, I think.'

"This is good. It's good from the curlers' point of view and it's good from the curling fan's perspective, too. I like it. I do like it."

It was announced Tuesday that the event -- like the one held in Edmonton that qualified Martin and Bernard through to the Vancouver 2010 Olympics -- will be held Dec. 1-8, 2013. It is expected to go to Winnipeg.

While it will feature the same eight-team round-robin format with three-team playoff format from the Edmonton Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings event, it's the getting there that's dramatically different.

Instead of four teams qualifying direct to the trials, six will now go through. And instead of it being an extremely complicated format, it's now much easier to follow for fans.

"I really like the idea of six teams getting to the trials directly," said Bernard.

"I like the idea of the six teams qualifying to the trials directly because I think it gives Canada the best chance of sending the best teams to the Olympics with the best chance of winning medals in 2014," said Bernard.

"If you have to go through the pretrials, the trials and the Olympics, that means you have to peak three times in a season and that's very, very difficult to do.

"The last time around it was such a long, involved process."

Martin said the bottom line is getting the best team to the Olympics. And this goes a long way to helping do that.

Both curlers would scrap the pretrials event entirely if it were up to them, but Martin understands it.

"I'm not a big fan of it but it allows for the Cinderella story," said Martin. "It allows the teams which haven't qualified to keep going, knowing that they have a chance. There's something to be said for that."

But at least it cuts back on the odds of a hot-and-cold team getting hot at the trials and then ending up cold at the Olympics.

"The big thing is those six teams going through direct, and the way you get to be one of those six teams. Those six teams will get there by proving they are consistently solid. It's good. It's all good."

It's good for the Canadian Curling Association as well, because it makes the repositioned Canada Cup event huge. Winners of the 2011 and 2012 Canada Cups both get direct entry to the trials.

It works like this for both men and women:

1. Winner of 2011 Canada Cup (Cranbrook. B.C.).

2. The 2011-12 season points leader.

3. Winner of the 2012 Canada Cup (TBA).

4. The 2012-2013 season points leader.

5 & 6. Two-year combined highest points leaders. 7 & 8. Pretrials winners.

The 2013 pretrials event (TBA, Nov. 6-10) will be composed of 12 teams in both men's and women's based on points accumulation in separate and combined seasons.

The Canada Cup format has been modified to feature seven teams in a round-robin event with the first-place teams advancing to a final against the winners of the second-and third-place teams. The 2011 Cranbrook Canada Cup winners will be the first of the six teams to qualify directly to Canada's curling Olympic trials.

The 2011 Canada Cup field in Cranbrook will be comprised of 2010 Canada Cup winners Glenn Howard and Stefanie Lawton from the event held in Medicine Hat in December, the coming Charlottetown Scotties and London Brier winners and the top five teams on the points list as of April 30.

For the fans, it's much easier to follow than the complicated -- but fair -- qualifying process of the last quadrennial. It'll be way more fun to follow.

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