Has to be a better way to pick Olympic reps, says Newfoundland skip
Brad Gushue watches a shot during the Capital One Masters of Curling Wednesday night from Credit Union Centre in Saskatoon. Photo by Greg Pender/Star Phoenix
Saskatoon - Brad Gushue is locked in a four-year bumper-car race to the 2010 Olympics, but he hates the track.
The skip, who became a Newfoundland icon when he won Canada's first-ever men's Olympic curling gold medal in 2006, said there has to be a better way to decide which rock-throwing foursome represents Canada in Vancouver.
"I think it's ridiculous. I think it's the stupidest format," Gushue said at the Masters of Curling at Saskatoon's Credit Union Centre. The Masters is the third stop on the Capital One Grand Slam of Curling schedule.
The current Olympic qualifying format, in use for the first time, awards berths based on a range of factors, from winning major events to earning Canadian Team Ranking System points via play in various bonspiels. The World Curling Tour's souvenir program, available at Grand Slam sites, spends three pages explaining the CTRS, and two more outlining the Trials qualifying process.
First place at the Masters in Saskatoon is worth 36,000 CTRS points, although Gushue may be hard-pressed to aspire to that top-spot bundle after a pair of 8-2 losses Thursday, first to Martin Ferland of Trois Rivieres, Que., and then to defending world champion Glenn Howard of Coldwater, Ont.
The losses, which leave Gushue and his team of Mark Nichols, Chris Schille and Dave Noftall, with a 1-2 record, came in similar fashion. Both Ferland and Howard built up substantial leads with early steals and put things away with three-pointers in the middle ends - neither game went beyond the seventh.
Gushue particularly struggled in the game against Ferland - he curled at 56 percent, while his team average was 79 percent. The Newfoundlanders' numbers improved in the later game - Gushue was up to 74 per cent and the team was at 82 per cent, but that mattered little against Howard, whose team was a brilliant 96 per cent overall, with third Richard Hart and lead Craig Savill both at 100 per cent.
Gushue could still get into the quarter-finals, or at least tie-breakers, with wins over Manitoba's Greg Stoughton and British Columbia's Greg McCaulay today, but to do so, will probably need some help in the form of beneficial results in other games.
Each round-robin win in Saskatoon this week is worth 3,000 CTRS points and every little bit counts, especially to teams that, for example, have made personnel changes during the four-year cycle - as Gushue did just that last April when he made headlines by axing Olympic teammate Jamie Korab. Rinks making such switches lose a percentage of their points.
"We're forcing our teams in Canada to run themselves so thin, because you have to play so much to earn so many points to get into the Olympic Trials," Gushue said. "When it comes to the Olympics, I think the team that goes is going to be absolutely worn out. We experienced that a little bit in (Turin), and this process makes it even worse."
"The fact you have to pick a team and stick with it for four years makes it very difficult," he added. "People don't realize a lot of these curling teams are like families, and sometimes when you're on the road so much, you just need a change. Unfortunately, (this process) makes it very difficult to make those changes. It's not necessarily the best thing to get the best team in the long run. It's not a bad thing to mix up a player here and there and get that right mix. It's taken me two years to figure out the process, let alone running myself thin to try and get to the Olympic Trials.
"Like I said to the CCA, if it wasn't broke, why fix it? We've sent six teams to the Olympics and won six medals. That's not too bad."
Gushue said everybody has a theory about how to fix the Trials. His idea is to compress the four-year cycle into two years, with the top eight squads on the team ranking system qualifying for the Trials.
He does say there will be some interesting matches next winter as teams get closer to qualifying for a shot at the Games.
"When the last couple of spots are on, there's going to be a lot of interest," Gushue said. "A regular cash-spiel in the middle of nowhere, we're playing Pat Simmons, and people are going to be watching because they'll know we're fighting for a spot in the Olympic Trials or fighting it out for points. It will spark some interest, but I think there's a better way to do it. Everybody has their theories. We knew what the format was two years ago, and now we have to deal with it. Hopefully we'll tweak it or break it and start over again for 2014."
Gushue is currently 11th on the World Curling Tour with $28,336 in earnings. He's gone 2-3 in each of his first two Grand Slams this year.
"Every game in this event is so tough," said Gushue. "People watch these events and see some great teams go 1-4 or 2-3 and wonder what's going on. It's because there's 18 really, really good teams and anybody can beat you at any point. Any win you can get is good. It's a race to three wins to get into the playoffs. Winning that first one puts you in a good position."