London Brier an early hit

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:20 AM ET

LONDON - Five years ago, Peter Inch watched the Brier in Hamilton and cringed.

Judged the worst hosting job in modern tournament history, it was a major money-loser with a total attendance of 107,199 at Copps Coliseum. That, after several successful hostings in the West, including a record-setting attendance of 281,985 at Rexall Place in Edmonton two years earlier.

“I called Warren Hansen in Hamilton during that Brier and drove down,” Inch said of the Brier boss, who won the Tankard throwing second stones for Hector Gervais the last time the tournament was held here back in 1974.

“I told him this is not what Ontario represents. I told him I wanted to show the rest of Canada that Ontario does love curling and could put on a good show.”

That was how the London 2011 bid began.

And Inch appears to be proving his point.

In a venue which, other than having only 8,500 seats in the curling configuration, is near perfect for a Brier, the event has drawn near-capacity crowds for all but the morning draw, and the atmosphere has been excellent.

“I'm a bit surprised, actually. It's way better than I thought it was going to be,” said Kevin Martin.

“We're not just playing before good sized crowds, they're providing a great atmosphere in which to play.

“They're definitely pro Glenn Howard. But that's good. But they're good for everybody. If you make a great shot, they cheer.”

Ontario skip Howard was seen running down the carpet beside a sheet trying to keep pace with still speedy Jack Cox, the Brier regular who will turn 80 years old this month, yet continues to run around the rink carrying the Ontario flag.

“This crowd really gets the adrenaline pumping,” said Howard of the crowd in the arena.

“We can really feel the fans behind us. You want the building to be full and it's been pretty near full. I just hope they'll all be here for the rest of the week.”

Hansen is happy.

“Saturday was a great day at both the rink and the Brier Patch,” he said.

About a month ago, Hansen and Inch were both worried about it being another Hamilton.

“We usually have some concern when it's East of Winnipeg, especially recently since the West economy is so much stronger than the economy in the East,” he said.

Inch said a lot of work done months and months ago finally kicked in.

“We didn't take it for granted because it's the Brier. We went everywhere promoting it. I went to home shows and summer events and anywhere they'd let me make a speech.

“A month ago we didn't have 80,000 tickets sold. But all of a sudden they started selling and we make it over 100,000 and then we've had real good walk-up crowds for starters. A buzz has really started to be created.”

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terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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