No. 1: Team Gushue 2006 Olympic Champs

Robin
Robin Short
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A golden moment and a win for the ages

Of all the Canadian championships and scattered few world titles won by athletes from Newfoundland and Labrador, there's little doubt nothing can match the frenzy that surrounded this team two years ago.

How big was it?

Consider this: the premier of the province closed schools so students and teachers could all watch history unfold; offices across the province effectively shut down as workers lugged in TV sets and ordered pizzas. In and around St. John's, traffic was noticeably light and the city was eerily quiet.

From left, Gushue, Nichols, Howard, Korab and Adam show off their hardware after receiving their gold medals the day after their 2006 Olympic win in Italy. - Canwest news service file photo

Of all the Canadian championships and scattered few world titles won by athletes from Newfoundland and Labrador, there's little doubt nothing can match the frenzy that surrounded this team two years ago.

How big was it?

Consider this: the premier of the province closed schools so students and teachers could all watch history unfold; offices across the province effectively shut down as workers lugged in TV sets and ordered pizzas. In and around St. John's, traffic was noticeably light and the city was eerily quiet.

Everyone was watching CBC.

Such was the excitement stirred by Brad Gushue, Mark Nichols, Russ Howard, Jamie Korab and Mike Adam on Feb. 24, 2006.

For their win for the ages - the gold medal at the XX Winter Olympic Games - the Brad Gushue curlers top the list of Newfoundland and Labrador's 10 best teams.

Gushue's climb to curling's summit began in December 2005, at the Canadian Olympic Curling Trials in Halifax.

In a 10-person field of Canadian curling's who's who - Kevin Martin, Randy Ferbey, Jeff Stoughton and Glenn Howard among them - few, if anyone, gave the Newfoundland curlers much of a chance.

Actually, it was four Newfs and an Ontario curler, via New Brunswick. Gushue added Howard, he of the Canadian and world championships and Hall of Fame ring, to the lineup to throw second stones and call last shot. Adam, who with Nichols comprised the Labrador contingent on the St. John's-based team, had stepped aside to allow Howard to come on board.

Prior to the Halifax spiel, Stoughton, a two-time Canadian and world champion from Winnipeg, went so far as to say Gushue's group had, "no chance" at winning the Trials.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Torino: Gushue sailed through the Trials round-robin at 8-1, his only loss a 9-5 setback to B.C. veteran Pat Ryan.

Gushue advanced directly to the final and, wouldn't you know it, Stoughton beat John Morris in the semifinals to set up the "No Chance Final."

Gushue grabbed an early 6-2 lead, but Stoughton made a game of it. It came down to a measurement in the 10th end, where it was declared the Manitoban's second stone was a hair outside the house.

The Gushue team won 8-7, punching its ticket to Italy.

"I'll tell ya," said Howard, "I could swim to Italy right now."

Until Gushue, Nichols, Korab, Adam and coach Toby McDonald came along, the only Newfoundlander to compete in a Winter Olympics was hockey player Dwayne Norris, who skated in the 1994 Lillehammer Games.

Turin - or Torino - was the setting of the 2006 Winter Olympics, but the men's and women's curling competition was staged in Pinerolo, a hamlet of 35,000 nestled at the foot of the Alps and some 40 minutes west of Olympic central.

Truth be told, Gushue probably faced stiffer competition in Halifax, although getting past reigning Olympic champ Pal Trulsen of Norway, former world champ Peja Lindholm of Sweden, Scotland's Dave Murdoch, Germany's Andy Kapp, Ralph Stoeckli of Switzerland and Pete Fenson of the U.S. wouldn't be easy.

Despite difficulty getting used to the Olympics rocks, and the fact Mark Nichols had cooled off from his brilliant play in Halifax, Gushue managed to go 6-3 in the round-robin. There was some serious doubt Gushue could be the first Canadian male curling skip to win an Olympic gold medal.

If there was concern about Nichols' game, it was erased in the semifinal. Against Fenson, Nichols curled a sizzling 94 per cent, which coupled with Gushue's steady hand, spelled trouble for the Wisconsin pizza-maker.

Canada won handily 11-5, assuring the curlers of at least a silver medal.

"You could see the sparkle in his eye," Gushue said of his longtime third, who would be front and centre in the gold-medal game against the human alphabet, Markku Uusipaavalniemi of Finland.

"He's the key to this team. He had it out there today and when he's shooting like that, we're going to win a heck of a lot of games."

Gushue was a lifetime 1-1 against Uusipaavalniemi, his win coming in a Grand Slam event in Port Hawkesbury, N.S., his loss coming in the round-robin of the Olympics.

The quaint Palaghiaccio venue was filled to near-capacity for the final of a game foreign to the Italians, who would cheer for the simplest of shots.

It was a final that will be remembered for the six-in-six, when Canada scored a remarkable six points in the sixth end.

And it was Nichols who set up the fateful end with perhaps the finest shot in the Olympic tournament.

With his last shot, Nichols executed a perfect long raise double takeout, a high-risk toss that saw the Canadian stone hit a Finnish centreline guard about eight feet outside the 12-foot ring, which in turn bumped out a second Finnish guard just outside the 12-foot, and a third Finnish stone resting on the four-foot. The last ousted rock just shaved a Canadian stone sitting on the button as Gushue counted three.

Uusipaavalniemi wrecked on guards on both his shots as Gushue, with last shot, stared at six yellow rocks counting.

"My heart started absolutely pounding," Gushue said afterwards. "I looked around and did the math. We're one up and we get six and now we're seven up and there's no way we're losing."

Gushue was heavy on his draw for seven. The remainder of the game was played for the sake of TV.

Across Newfoundland and Labrador, it was, "Henderson ... has scored for Canada" all over again, times 10.

Since then, Howard has returned to Moncton to curl with his son, Adam has accepted a job in his hometown of Wabush and Gushue, Nichols and Korab - together with newcomer Ryan Fry of Winnipeg - are looking for another berth in the Olympics, beginning with the Olympic Pre-Trials next November in Prince George, B.C. The top four teams from Prince George will then head to Edmonton for the Olympic Trials in December with a spot in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics on the line.

rshort@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Olympic Curling Trials, CBC, Olympic Pre-Trials

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Halifax, St. John's Torino Winnipeg Italy Ontario New Brunswick Canada Pinerolo Norway Sweden Scotland Germany Switzerland U.S. Wisconsin Finland Prince George Port Hawkesbury Moncton Wabush Edmonton

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Comments

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Recent comments

  • Telling like it is
    July 02, 2010 - 13:35

    Hmmm....

    A picture of brad gushue and his teammates holding bouquets of flowers.

    Sounds and looks very fitting!

  • Edna
    July 02, 2010 - 13:27

    Hey, as a Newfie, i am really proud of those guys, its not every day, that we come home with gold.

  • Whaaaaaaa??
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    A truly great global sport played by almost seven-eight countries in the world. I hope bowling, darts, broomball and poker make it next time.

  • Capture the Flag
    July 02, 2010 - 13:10

    It was 3 years ago that the team won the Gold medal

  • Telling like it is
    July 01, 2010 - 20:24

    Hmmm....

    A picture of brad gushue and his teammates holding bouquets of flowers.

    Sounds and looks very fitting!

  • Edna
    July 01, 2010 - 20:15

    Hey, as a Newfie, i am really proud of those guys, its not every day, that we come home with gold.

  • Whaaaaaaa??
    July 01, 2010 - 20:13

    A truly great global sport played by almost seven-eight countries in the world. I hope bowling, darts, broomball and poker make it next time.

  • Capture the Flag
    July 01, 2010 - 19:47

    It was 3 years ago that the team won the Gold medal