LONDON, Ont. -- Say goodbye to the fat guy in competitive curling.
The charming roly-poly, cigar-chomping, beer-drinking curler might have been successful years ago.
He likely wouldn't survive in today's game.
Not only wouldn't he survive, he wouldn't fit in -- not with the gruelling schedule, not with the elite teams working out three or four times a week with personal trainers.
There is no mistaking the change in curling's physique. Check out the curlers at the Brier this week: The way these guys fill out their curling shirts, they wouldn't be out of place on a cheesecake calendar for women.
It used to be some guys looked like 20 pounds of potatoes in a 10-pound sack. Especially trim nowadays are the rinks' front ends. Those are guys who lean on their brooms until the bristles are screaming for mercy as they try to drag a rock where it's supposed to go.
They do it for 10 ends, sometimes three times a day.
It has become a competition within a competition.
Ryan Fry, who plays second for Newfoundland's Brad Gushue, is blunt about having to be in shape.
"The only guys who can afford to not be in the best shape are the skips," he said. "They have to be in shape, too, but not like the other three guys on the rink. You look at Jeff Stoughton and Glenn Howard. They are in as good a shape as anyone in their mid-40s because they take conditioning seriously."
Fry is in the mould of so many curlers at this Brier. Not much spare meat on him, square shoulders, flat stomach and strong arms.
The entire Northern Ontario team, especially the Harnden brothers, E.J. and Ryan, Alberta third John Morris, and the Alberta front end of Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert are all impressive looking. But the list with bulging biceps doesn't stop there. It's long.
The list with bulging bellies is restricted to the press table.
The curling circuit has become increasingly demanding -- competitively, mentally and physically.
"You've got basically eight teams in the country that all abide by the same philosophy," Fry said. "Certain guys take it to the next level; the other guy has to keep up to keep in the top eight. You have to keep up and even take it to a new level and hope you are the innovator of that and they have to keep up to you."
Fitness never used to be a factor between winning and losing, but Morris says that's no longer the case, especially in a "long gruelling event like the Brier."
"At this stage when you are taking about a matter of inches, we're always locking horns with Manitoba and Ontario, there's not much that separates," Morris said. "You only live once, if there are a couple of things you can do here and there, small things then it might be the difference between an inch, winning and losing."
Fry says after the Brier, the team will take a week off.
"Then we go right into the gym with a new personal trainer for the next Olympic run," he said.
Said Morris: "We spent as much time in the gym as we do on the ice."
As for those pillars of broom pounding, both Morris and Fry are in agreement.
"If you don't have two players on your team in that kind of shape who can sweep all game, you are already behind the 8-ball," Fry said.
"If you don't have dominant sweepers, you are losing an inch here and there," Morris said. "Our front end are just bulls. You have to have great sweepers."
Fat guys need not apply.