Gushue: A Winner?

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My interest in age studies and curling has sent me into a tailspin this evening.  The Tim Horton’s Brier took place this afternoon.  Brad Gushue, representing Newfoundland and Labrador and the current Olympic Gold Medalist, age 26, was pitted against Glenn Howard, age 44, and his team from Ontario.  Glenn Howard lost the Brier final last year to Jean-Michel Menard from Quebec.  Brad Gushue won his gold medal with Russ Howard (incidentally Glenn Howard’s brother) at the helm.  Gushue threw fourth stones and Howard called the game. 

To win the right to represent Canada at the Olympic Games, your team must win a Brier like competition in which the top teams in Canada (determined by Brier wins and total funds won on the cash spiel circuit) play against one another.  Unlike the Brier, composed of teams representing their province to become a Canadian champion, the Olympic curling trials are not constrained by this residency requirement.  Hence, Gushue – who won the right to compete in the Olympic Trials due to curling accomplishments in the field years prior – asked Russ Howard (who did not qualify to compete in the Trials) to join his team.  Accordingly, Gushue shuffled the positions of his team to make room for Howard.  Gushue’s lead became their fifth player, Howard threw second stones but called the game, and Gushue continued to throw fourth stones.

Controversy erupted when Gushue won the Olympic Curling Trials.  Was Gushue worthy to represent Canada at the Olympic Games in Torino?  Did his team win the Trials because Howard had joined the team?  Although Gushue has been deemed a skillful shot thrower, his youth and inexperience is considered a draw back.  He makes “bad calls” as a skip the critics say.  In a curling game, you often have to pit “risk” (how many points am I going to give up this end if I don’t make my shot) versus “reward” (how important is it at this point in the game to score multiple points).  Inexperience – the critics comment – leads skips, like Gushue, to choose risk over reward more often than is necessary.  But with Howard at the helm, this problem was considered rectified by the critics.  And sure enough, Gushue and Howard brought home the Gold Medal from Torino.

When Gushue won the right to represent Newfoundland at the Brier this year, of course, controversy returned.  Gushue was again calling the game, and moreover, he added a new (young) player to his team because Howard was no longer with them.  Howard, instead, was competing in his home province of New Brunswick, and incidentally lost.  Critics and curling fans watched with baited breath.  The pressure was on.  Gushue had to prove he earned the Gold.  Gushue started shaky; he lost 3 games early on in round robin play but then his team came back to win their next 5 games to earn a spot in the playoffs.  As they say, the game was on.  In the playoffs, Team Ontario played Team Newfoundland; Gushue won 7-6.  As a result, Ontario had to play Manitoba, and conquer Veteran skip, Jeff Stoughton (who interestingly lost to Gushue in the 2006 Olympic Trials final). 

Howard scoffed off criticism about Gushue during an interview with CBC during the Ontario-Manitoba semi-final game – and ironically, minutes later, Stoughton lost control of the game coming up short after deciding to pit “risk” versus “reward.”  With Howard’s victory, Gushue and Howard were set up for their third match of the week.  I watched Gushe and his teammates today and along with my curling colleagues cheered for Gushue.  For the first half of the game, Gushue had control.  After the fifth end break the tides turned.  Gushue’s second flashed a take-out – and then almost in an effort to prove the critics wrong (or right) – Gushue called a gutsy shot – and missed.  Howard was up 3 points after the 8th end.  A game that was within reach for both teams, in a matter of seconds, was out of reach for Newfoundland.  Sigh!  Critics united in victory across the country. 

Unlike other sports it has become vary apparent to me that “youth” is not valued in curling.  The curling circuit involves a gentleman’s club –and only after being on the circuit for years – and having experienced the ups and downs of wins and losses are you granted entry.  Age politics are rampant.  What the critics fail to notice for example is that Stoughton, a Veteran skip, lost the semi-final the day before for similar reasons.  He pitted “risk” versus “reward” and came up short but this blip in his repertoire is downplayed.  Moreover, Gushue is not the only “risk” playing team.  Martin and his team from Alberta are also “known” for taking risks and often end up on the wrong side of the inch.  But when risk taking fails up short for a young team lapse in strategy is hailed. 

When the Brier tankard was presented to Team Ontario today, Gushue wore the voices of his critics on his face.  And not surprisingly, Glenn Howard was asked to comment on Gushue and his team during the reward ceremony.  The camera zoomed in and focused on Gushue.  Howard said his team needed to be “patient” in order to win this game against the high caliber play of Gushue and his teammates.  Howard praised their “youth” and called them an “unbelievable team” when asked whether or not Gushue had accomplished his aforementioned goal of winning respect this week.  Notably, the question was phrased as a declarative statement, “he’s won it” – yet if he has really won it, why the need for all the questions?  And if Gushue had won today, would he really have “won” in the sense of earning the respect he so clearly deserves?  I expect the grief he feels tonight has nothing to do with failing to bring the tankard to Newfoundland.  Instead, he will need to repair the gash inscribed in his pride.  If this is the “experience” his critics say he lacks, he has at least “won” something today with this loss.

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Curling Loss

Let’s have a moment of silence please.  Manitoba eliminated Team Alberta (aka skip Kevin Martin) from the Tim Horton’s Brier this afternoon.  Sigh.

Curling Coin

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OMG, find me one of these and I’ll buy you lunch with a curling lesson to follow in which I’ll teach you how to curl.

Curling Fever

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My weekend started shakily this am.  I turned on my televison to watch the first draw of the Tim Horton’s Brier (the Canadian Men’s Curling Championship)  and sadly discovered that my power was out.  %$&*!  But get this, my power was out only in my living room where my TV is located.  The anti-curling gods were out to get me.  Either that, or my “friends” have taken action to subsume my curling addiction.  Fortunately, the curling Gods came to my rescue and power was successfully restored during the 4th end of the Alberta vs. BC game broadcast.  Phew!  If I had to wait much longer I would have composed a very angry letter to Enmax demanding that if they couldn’t restore my power STAT they had better put me on a plane to Hamilton, Ontario to watch the bonspiel live.

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Confessions of an Addicted Curler

Wednesday pm.  Drove to Lethbridge.  Watched my first evening draw ever of the Scotties Tournament of Hearts live.

Thursday am.  Had coffee with an old high school friend.  Friend leaves 10 mins before draw time.  Jessmo races to Lethy from C-holm.  Makes it to the Enmax Centre under an hour just in time for the last rock of the 3rd draw.  My intention was to return to Cowtown after the afternoon draw, but decide to stay in town for the Thursday evening draw and drive home after 9pm.

Friday am. Head to the Enmax at 8:30am to watch the Alberta vs. Ontario tiebreaker after crashing at my brother’s place. Decide to stay for yet another tie-breaker game following AB’s win.  Alberta vs. PEI.  Game ends 4ish.  Jetset in my Mazda roadster to Cowtown so that I can watch the PEI vs. Manitoba semi-final.  Arrive in Cowtown 6:30ish in time to watch the remaining 7 ends.

Saturday pm.  12:30-4:30pm.  Watch another semi-final game – Manitoba vs. Team Canada.  Then curl myself at 7pm at the Calgary  Curling Club (one of the home clubs of Cheryl Bernard, the skip of our AB team at the 2007 Scotties).

Sunday pm.  12:15-2:30pm. Curl again myself at the Garrison Curling Club.  My teammates and I position the television so that during our game we can check the score of the Scotties final.  After my game ends, watch the last 3 ends of the final.  Curl again myself at the Garrison Curling Club at 7pm.

Sunday night.  Go to sleep with Cheryl Bernard’s book “Between the Sheets” in hand.

Addicted?  Meh.

Observations of an Anxious Armchair Curler

 

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Excerpt from the National Post, October 23, 1999

 

It’s hard to believe how worked up I can get over it.

I’m right on the edge of my seat.

I get nervous.  I start sweating.

I’m watching curling.

 

Some people will laugh, but a lot more won’t.  Curling’s much more of a sport than most people realize.  The thinking required, and the strategy, absolutely capture me.  You’d be surprised how many National Hockey League players can be found sitting in their hotel rooms in the middle of a road trip watching curling somewhere.  I’ve been hooked on the game since I played for the Edmonton Oilers.

 

Hockey players were thrilled to be staying in the Olympic Village.  It was like being a kid again or off to a tournament and billeted.  I like to think some of those other athletes got to know a completely different side of hockey players.  We got along wonderfully with everyone else, whether they were skiers or snowboarders or speed skaters.

 

Or curlers, of course – with me leading the cheering in that department.

 

– Wayne Gretzky –