OTTAWA – Defending Brier champion Kevin Martin leads a trio of Edmonton-based men’s teams that have earned a direct berth into the Canadian Olympic curling trials.

The Canadian Curling Association named four men’s and four women’s teams Wednesday that have earned automatic spots in the Olympic trials, which will take place Dec. 6-13 in Edmonton.

Martin, who placed second at the world championship in Moncton, N.B., earlier this month, is joined by Randy Ferbey and Kevin Koe. Glenn Howard of Coldwater, Ont., the 2007 world champion, rounded out the top four.

Defending Scotties Tournament of Hearts champion Jennifer Jones earned the top seed in the women’s trials. Her Winnipeg foursome will be joined by Shannon Kleibrink and Cheryl Bernard of Calgary and Stefanie Lawton of Saskatoon.

The teams qualified by winning three specific events over a three-season period (2006-2009) or by their cumulative points total on the Canadian Team Ranking System (CTRS) during that time.

A pre-trials event, held Nov. 10-14 in Prince George, B.C., will feature 12 men’s and 12 women’s teams vying for the four remaining spots in the trials.

The men’s field includes reigning Olympic gold medallist Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., former world champions Jeff Stoughton and Kerry Burtnyk of Winnipeg, two-time world champion Wayne Middaugh of Toronto, 2006 Brier winner Jean-Michel Menard of St-Romuald, Que., and 2000 world champion Greg McAulay of Richmond, B.C.

Mike McEwen of Winnipeg, Bob Ursel of Kelowna, B.C., Joel Jordison of Moose Jaw, Sask., Ted Appelman of Edmonton, Pat Simmons of Davidson, Sask., and Jason Gunnlaugson of Winnipeg round out the men’s qualifiers.

On the women’s side, 2007 world champion Kelly Scott of Kelowna, B.C., former Canadian junior champion Marie-France Larouche of St-Romuald, Que., 1998 Canadian champion Cathy King of Edmonton and 2008 Players’ Championship winner Amber Holland of Kronau, Sask., lead the way.

Sherry Anderson of Saskatoon, Rachel Homan of Ottawa, Sherry Middaugh of Coldwater, Ont., Michelle Englot of Regina, Heather Rankin and Crystal Webster of Calgary, Krista McCarville of Thunder Bay, Ont., and Eve Belisle of Montreal complete the women’s pre-trial field.

The winning teams from the trials in Edmonton will represent Canada at the Vancouver Olympics. The curling competition runs from Feb. 16-27 at the Vancouver Olympic Centre.

By SEAN GRASSIE, FOR SUN MEDIA

CORTINA, Italy — Canada versus Bulgaria is not a matchup you’ll often see at an international curling event.

But it played out yesterday as we improved to 5-0 at the world mixed doubles championship in Cortina, Italy, after beating the Bulgarians 10-3.

There is only one curling sheet in Bulgaria, but just one male and one female curler is needed to assemble a mixed doubles team. This makes it easier for Bulgaria and countries like Spain, Hungary and Estonia — all who have never competed at a men’s or women’s world curling championship — to be part of the 27-team field here this week.

And this global appeal of mixed doubles curling could land the sport a place in the Olympics as early as 2014. According to Keith Wendorf, the director of competitions for the World Curling Federation, the WCF’s bid to have mixed doubles in the Vancouver Games was denied because the sport wasn’t established enough yet.

But Wendorf says he is hopeful that the success of this event in Cortina — where 27 of the 45 WCF member nations are represented — will help convince Olympic officials that mixed doubles belongs in Sochi, Russia, in 2014. The WCF will submit their bid by September and will know the decision about six months later.

In fact, Wendorf says the intent of introducing mixed doubles to curling was to add more medals for the sport at the Olympics. It was chosen over the four-person mixed, he says, because it is easier for many countries to field teams, it’s a game that could spark some life into curling clubs, and it means less traffic in an already crowded Olympic Village with just two players on a team.

Already, mixed doubles curling has been included in the newly formed Youth Olympic Games. In Innsbruck, Austria in 2012, 16 countries will send two male and two female curlers between the ages of 14 and 18. When the curlers arrive, they will be randomly mixed with other nations to create 32 mixed doubles teams.

One of the nations in Innsbruck will be Brazil. So if Canada versus Bulgaria seems odd, just image a scenario where a Canadian curler wins an Olympic medal with a Brazilian teammate.

By SEAN GRASSIE, FOR SUN MEDIA

CORTINA, Italy — We’ve been living dangerously up in this mountainous region of Northern Italy.

But it’s been a winning recipe as Allison Nimik and myself moved to 4-0 at the world mixed doubles curling championship after pulling out two cliffhangers yesterday. We beat Scotland 6-3 in the morning, then edged Russia 7-6 in an extra-end in a first-place showdown.

The match against Russia had as many twists and turns as the winding roads of Cortina. The Russians drew for one in the sixth end to go up 5-4. They elected not to simply peel our shot rock out and blank the end because — under this format — we would have wrestled away the hammer. We scored a deuce the next end, held them to one in the eighth, and then didn’t need to throw our last rock in the extra end after Russia’s triple-takeout attempt barely missed.

Against Scotland, they came up short on a draw to the eight-foot in the seventh end to give us a steal of three and a 6-3 lead coming home. But even the most routine of shots can be difficult out here, as the weight on the rock comes off quickly when it catches the big curl and you don’t have your two sweepers to pound it from the time it leaves your hand.

Three up playing the last end, though, is hardly safe in this game. Before each end starts, a stationary rock of each colour is set up — one as a centre guard and the other behind it at the back of the button. The team with last rock decides the order of the stones, and inevitably they choose to have their rock in the house.

So Scotland already had a stone buried before the final end started, and after a couple of good come-arounds they had their tying points set up. But the Scots slid their second last shot through the rings, and my teammate Alli picked out their counter for the win.

We meet Bulgaria in our only game today. The Bulgarians have had adventures of a different kind as they’ve lost by a combined 25-6 score in their first two outings.

Sean Grassie is playing for Team Canada at the world mixed doubles curling championship.


By JIM BENDER, SUN MEDIA

In the past two seasons, Jason Gunnlaugson has parted ways with two different skips.

Yet, the promising young Manitoban still managed to qualify for the Canadian Curling Trials qualifying tournament to be held in Prince George, B.C., this November, the CCA confirmed yesterday.

Although the last qualifying team for the tourney is listed under Daley Peters, who left the team, Gunnlaugson, Justin Richter and Tyler Forrest will get the berth because the three of them were there when all of the necessary CTRS points were earned over the past three seasons. That includes the two previous years when Reid Carruthers skipped the squad.

Gunnlaugson has yet to replace Peters.

“We’re still at the stage of, ‘Wow, I can’t believe we actually made it in,’ ” Gunnlaugson admitted. “That’s definitely been our goal since we lost the provincial final (to Jeff Stoughton) with Reid a couple of years ago (2006).”

Peters remains a possibility to return to the team after leaving to hook up with his dad, Vic. In fact, Gunnlaugson has not even ruled out recruiting Vic Peters to take the helm.

“We want to get the best player available to give us the best shot possible,” said Gunnlaugson, adding that could include adding a curler from outside of Manitoba. “Just like (Newfoundland’s) Brad (Gushue) did with (New Brunswick’s) Russ (Howard). But we’re not really thinking that way right now.”

Stoughton, Kerry Burtnyk and Mike McEwen have also qualified out of Manitoba for the 12-team tourney. So has Gushue and a number of Grand Slam squads.

“I really can’t say we’ll be intimidated at all because there won’t be too many expectations on us,” said Gunnlaugson, who has also competed at Grand Slams and other World Curling Tour events.

In fact, Gunnlaugson is allowing himself to dream about becoming one of the last four qualifiers for the Olympic trials in Edmonton — and actually winning the whole thing to represent Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

“Our chances are extremely small,” he said. “But they are more than zero. We definitely have a chance and we can do it. You know, somebody said Gushue had ‘no chance’, last time and look what happened. I just hope someone says we have ‘no chance,’ and we get a medal.”

Gunnlaugson must confirm his full team by June 1.

BITER: The inaugural Dominion Curling Club city championships started at the Assiniboine Memorial Curling Club yesterday. Two men’s and two women’s teams will advance to the first Dominion provincial championship to be played at the same club this weekend.


By SEAN GRASSIE, FOR SUN MEDIA

CORTINA, Italy — It’s an odd scenario to be playing your first ever competitive mixed doubles curling games at a world championship, but we passed the introduction yesterday to start 2-0.

And we did it by meeting two daunting tests, first beating last year’s runner-up team from Finland 9-4 and then scoring a 7-4 win over a tenacious Italian duo that had a boisterous home crowd on its side.

We went up 6-2 on Finland after counting four in the third end, but we couldn’t simply peel the game out since you can’t remove any rock until the fourth stone of an end under this format.

It’s like playing a skins game, where piles of rocks are in play and the finesse game is put at a premium.

Fortunately for us, we positioned our stones in favourable spots while the Finns slid heavy on the fast ice too many times.

You get up and sweep your own rocks in doubles curling, and teammate Alli Nimik and I have been burning more calories than usual as back-end players.

My curling jacket came off for the first time ever after the fourth end against Finland.

But the Finnish skip was clearly suffering. He is used to curling back home in a facility that is covered by a tent and is as cold as the outside temperature.

With few sweeping calls it is quiet on the ice, but it was electric in the crowd when we played host Italy.

Some great last-rock shots by Alli, though, kept the excitement in check. She is throwing the first and fifth rocks of every end, leaving me with stones two, three and four.

Alli made a delicate freeze with her final rock in the sixth end to hold Italy to one, and then drew for three the next end to put us up three coming home.

The introduction is over, but it doesn’t get easier as we face 2-0 Scotland and 2-0 Russia today.

Winnipeg’s Sean Grassie is representing Canada at the world mixed curling championships.