Telegram Sports Editor Robin Short is in Ottawa covering the Canadian Olympic Curling Trials and the quest of Brad Gushue’s St. John’s rink to represent this country at the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea.
OTTAWA – The province’s Canada Games officials were busy recently preparing a final report to be submitted to government from the 2017 Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg.
It probably only took a paragraph or two to complete.
Not making light of the situation, but Newfoundland and Labrador’s performance on the regional and national sporting stage is waning, and it could be argued it’s never been worse.
In the past five Canada Summer Games, the province’s medal total has been decreasing from eight in 2001 to seven, six, two and one in Winnipeg.
And it’s not just Canada Games. Hockey hasn’t done anything at the Telus Cup Atlantic major midget championships, soccer hasn’t been close to being a consistent .500 province, let alone a winner, at national age group championships, and the sport isn’t alone. Lump basketball, volleyball and baseball in with the group.
Male softball is the only exception to the rule.
It’s to a point now at Canada Games where Newfoundland and Labrador is struggling to beat Prince Edward Island. Forget about Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan.
There are a number of reasons for this, and they’ve been pulled out of the hat time and again: no money, no competition because there’s no travel, no coaching, no facilities, lousy weather, etc. etc.
We’ve heard it all before.
Brad Gushue isn’t anything special. But what separates Brad Gushue from the others is an insatiable work ethic.
His teammate, Mark Nichols from Labrador City, has it. Ditto Carl English, who grew up on a highway in Patrick’s Cove. Same with Rod Snow, who played in four World Cups of Rugby. Ryane Clowe literally willed himself to be an NHLer.
But they are few and far between.
I’m told, by more than one person, the skill level of major midget hockey in the province is regressing instead of progressing. Those close to basketball — and I’m around the gyms a lot — echo the same thoughts surrounding high school hoops. Baseball results on the national stage have been, for the most part, embarrassing.
Gushue didn’t have any special help along the way. His coaching was good, but nobody was brought in from Winnipeg to work with him. And he certainly didn’t head out west as a 15-year-old.
What Gushue, and the others, had was a work ethic second to none.
“Reg Caughie (who was the manager at the St. John’s Curling Club) would literally shut the lights off on us to kick us out of the club,” recalled Gushue, who is skipping his St. John’s rink at the Canadian Olympic Curling Trials, beginning today in Ottawa.
“We’d still be out there practising at 1 or 1:30 in the morning, and he wanted to get home.
“We had friends out on George St., but we’d be practising. Even now with my injury (a nagging hip and groin problem), I’ll bet I practise 25 or 30 per cent as much as I used to, but I still practise 10 times more than any other curler in Newfoundland.”
Over the years, on the side of the highway with his homemade net, right through to today, it’s safe to say English has taken, what, hundreds of thousands of shots? As a youngster in Patrick’s Cove, English would play basketball for hours, often by himself.
Even when he and the St. John’s Edge were negotiating, English would be alone at the Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Centre shooting, just as he’d done all summer.
“It’s not something I had to do, but something I wanted to do,” he told me years ago.
If the winds were up, he’d work on ball handling. On a calm day, he’d shoot.
There’s an old joke, once told by Fabian Manning at a wedding, that English stumbled upon a mermaid while fishing. The mermaid, while stroking her hair, asked Carl if he wanted to have some fun.
To which English replied, “Do you have a basketball?”
The point is that while a very good work ethic does not always translate into success, it quite often gives an athlete an advantage over his or her opponent.
“I’ve heard tons of stories about how hard Ryane Clowe worked,” said Gushue of his fellow O’Donel high school graduate. “A lot of times, yeah, it does come down to work.”
And attitudes, which have to change.
“From an athletic perspective, we do have challenges,” said Gushue. “From facilities and a coaching standpoint, I think we lack what other provinces have. As far as money invested, I don’t know what other provinces are doing but I would assume it’s more than what is being put into sport and recreation in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“But do we use that as a crutch? Absolutely, and I really think from a leadership standpoint — and I’m not singling anybody out, but certainly from every sports organization — we need to change our mentality.
“I’ve heard my whole life that people and teams go up and finish seventh or eighth and they’re thrilled, because they beat a couple of provinces and because we do have more disadvantages than other provinces. They feel that’s an accomplishment.
“But that shouldn’t be something we should be celebrating or thrilled about. We’re humans, the same as anybody from Toronto or Vancouver or Winnipeg, who throw a rock down the ice, or throw a baseball, or skate on ice, just like anybody else.
“So why are we settling for being inferior?”
That’s the million dollar question.
And we need answers, the sooner the better.
We could start by looking ourselves in the mirror and asking how badly we really want it.
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort