Favorite Reporter

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Monday, February 24, 2014

The Olympics are Over! :-( What now?

Like the Sochi bear, I too felt like shedding a tear at the close of the Olympics, and why the hell not. The Olympics were awesome. Not just for the curling, but for everything. The Winter Olympics provide an orgy of drama for the sports enthusiast. Even the most banal sport that you usually would never even slow down for when channel surfing provides the opportunity for heightened drama, for true inspiration and glory.And there is Olympic Hockey. And Curling!

Some random Winter Olympic observations:

  • I don’t understand why Canadians are not better at biathlon. We like to hunt. We like to ski. Seems like a natural sport for us. It’s almost as if like as if they made watching hockey and drinking Tim Horton’s a sport.  And yet we were nowhere near the podium. Go figure.
  • I think Ice dancing is a beautiful and challenging activity. But for the love of god, it is not a sport. I love the rant by this sports announcer that I had never heard of before….(link to Sid's rant). The post-skate interview with Scott Moir was a fascinating study of why this is not a sport. Scott basically said – if you read between the lines – that he knew coming into the games that they were going to finish second because there coach was now more in love with the American couple (who she also coached!) So presumably, she would be lobbying harder for them, therefore, Virtue and Moir were skating for 2nd place. That would be like me saying I know I cannot win my next curling game, because the rocks like the other team better, and will surely position themselves to their advantage.  Then, after this, the Russian girl who wins the singles was basically not even close to the Korean girl who finished 2nd. Oh well, thank god the Olympics are over so I can go back to not giving a shit about figure skating for another four years, and THANK GOD again that I play sports that require no judging.
  • Short track speed skating reminds me a lot of roller-derby. I know it is a tough sport, and these guys (and girls) all have thighs roughly the same circumference as my chest, but damn it looks so random. The relay even more-so than the individual races. I am thinking Montrealers are naturally drawn to the sport because it reminds them of driving to work in traffic.  
  • I love watching the X-games sports, but when they add a railing to slide down and a giant Russian doll that gets you points for touching as you fly by, kinda makes it feel like I am watching some skateboarders in front of my building getting chased by security. But damn, it is impressive. 
  • I don't understand how a country where weed is not only legal, it is part of the natural culture, can be so good at long-track speed skating. The Dutch owned that event. Apparently it is simply because they have 6 long-track speed skating facilities spread out across the country. Here is my idea: we should convert the Olympic Stadium into a long-track skating oval. Then at least it would serve a purpose, and might get us some medals in South Korea!


Okay, given that this is supposed to be a curling blog, maybe a bit about the Olympic curling:

The curling was awesome to watch. I loved waking up to catch the last 5 ends of the games in the morning before starting my day. It seemed like a great way to watch curling.
Jennifer Jones was awe-inspiring. I am sure many lines will be written for years to come about how well that team played during the Olympics…but as a curler it was special. This was the biggest stage in the world, and curling is a game that can cripple you when you proceed on such a big stage for the first time. Kaitlin Lawes played more like a player who was in awe of the moment. She is a phenomenal curler, but struggled under the weight of the pressure of such a career-defining game, as could be expected. But JJ was unreal. She curled some ungodly number in the final like 90-95%, and it was a stunningly tough 95%. There were not a lot of open hits or easy draws. She had to make tough, TOUGH shots - and made almost all of them. Under the biggest pressure I can imagine. Wow. 

Brad Jacobs was equally solid, although Murdoch made it look easy for him in the final. The Scottish skip’s team had a bad case of stage fright, and the game was all but over after 4 ends. But Jacobs played some solid curling all week after a rough start, and is a deserving champion. I wonder if next time I am in Sault-Ste Marie I will drive on the Brad Jacobs Highway, or visit the Brad Jacobs arena. Maybe they will come out with a line of Team Jacobs inspired protein shakes, or maybe curling-themed gym, with barbells that use curling stones instead of weights!

The Olympics provide such a great stage for curling, and they highlight one of the great aspects of the game: curling is the ultimate test of conquering your own nerves. No matter what level you curl at,  the game will put you under pressure. At some point you will have to make your shot, with everyone watching. This is true for the club curler playing in his club championship C-final for the first time, as it is true for Murdoch’s front end missing relatively easy shots at the Olympics. The game forces you to confront your fear and throw the rock, and to learn how to harness your nerves and beat them. The game is played against yourself - the other team can only stand there and watch as you throw. And it is just as tough for the guys on TV to deal with as it is for you and me. The Olympics put the best curlers in the World under the biggest pressure imaginable: EVERYONE is watching. And you have to make a draw, to the four-foot, around a guard, against three. Yikes.


So what did having 4 guys that looked like linebackers as curlers do for the sport? I don’t know yet, the jury is still out. But I am guessing it will have an impact. Here is a story:
Was speaking with our curling club manager… Apparently during the Olympics, 5 athletic guys showed up at our curling club to try the game out. They were drunk, but made a number of comments about getting to the Olympics, and how cool the sport looked on TV. Apparently one of them was a former pro football player. Yes they had been drinking, and much like the strippers they surely met later, they will likely not remember their encounter with curling. But a bunch of socially well-adjusted, athletic guys showed up uninvited at a curling club! Whoa! Unprecedented! I am thinking our recruiting job might just have gotten a bit easier.

Now if I can only convince get 4 girls inspired by the Anna Sidorova Olympic Russian Curling Team to show up while I am practicing there one day and ask for me to show them my technique, my life will be complete. Here is a gratuitous pic of Anna Sidorova.



Some good news stories from the Quebec Senior Championships:

On the men's side, Denis Laflamme won over Johnny Stewart from Valleyfiled. Denis "the Flame" Laflamme is one of the true nice guys in the sport, and a great underdog story. Denis is from Sept-Iles. For those of you who don't know where Sept-Iles is; get in your car and drive for a day, and you are about half way there. Despite the remoteness, Denis has competed at the men's level for years, and has won more than his fair share of games. To do so he has logged more travel miles than most Quebec teams put together. Denis is a shotmaker who clearly loves the game. Nobody I know is more deserving to where a Quebec jacket at a Nationals than Denis. Enjoy the moment my friend! 
In honor of his win - I have pasted a link to the classic 80's Cheap Trick Song The Flame, even though I am pretty sure Denis might have never heard it.

On the women's side, Cathy Derrick will represent Quebec at Nationals. Glad to see Cathy back at another Nationals - she is a sweetheart.


Sad news in the curling world. The Best Lead in the World, Neil Harrison passed away. “Harry” played with the great Ed Werenich on their Brier and World Championship Team, and could take the 2 worst rocks on the ice on the worst ice conditions you could imagine and make two perfect come-arounds every time. He will be missed.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Olympics, Playing with Emotion and Anna Sidorova whispering in my Ear.

So I tried to stay up and watch the Olympic curling last night. Had a nap from 9-11, had a coffee, and still proceeded to sleep through the Canada-USA game. I think I was nodding off and dreaming during most of the game, as Anna Sidorova was whispering the color commentary seductively into my ear with a Russian accent, instead of Mike Harris.

Some thoughts on the Olympic curling so far:

The Women:

  • Jenny Jones is definitely the right team to have in Sochi representing Canada. She has been a stone-cold pressure-immune superstar so far. She has been completely clutch, her team is making more shots in front of her than anyone else.  They look like a lock for gold, barring an unexpected win by Muirhead or the Swedes. It comes down to one game at the end, but you have to like Jones’ chances from what we have seen so far.
  • I am cheering for the Russian Women’s team to make it to the final (although as I write this I think they are about to be eliminated).  I will not say why I am cheering for them (as my wife sometimes reads my blog. Sometimes.)

The Men:

  • Jacobs has been another story. He started the week playing very badly, and has picked up his game since. They are still the best team there.
  • I am not a big fan of this “Playing with emotion” bullshit that they claim to have invented. They yell, they scream, they bang their broom, they kick rocks into the corners like they are playing soccer. Apparently “playing with emotion” looks a lot like “having no impulse control”, or even “playing with anger management issues”.  Maybe I am an old-fashioned curling guy, but I am finding it hard to cheer for them, and even harder to like them. 
  • I am also not fond of the game they are calling. They seem to be playing a bit scared, bashing everything that looks like it might cause them a problem. Seems to me they were a bit more aggressive at the Trials, maybe because they respected the teams they were playing a bit more. 
  • I was watching Canada’s game against Russia this week, and Brad made a wide-open nose hit for a 4. Most big teams in Canada would say “Nice shot skip”, and the skip would nod approvingly and act like he knew he was going to make that shot all along. Instead they all yell, fist pump and act like they just won the gold medal. If this is the kind of emotion they show by beating a very bad Russian Team, then what are they going to do if they win the gold medal? Slide Tiger Williams- style down the ice on their brooms after ripping their shirts off and chest bumping? I am almost afraid of the celebration. 
  • What were the Scots thinking putting David Murdoch as skip of Tom Brewster’s team. For the uninformed, Great Britain essentially decides on their Olympic Team by having a bunch of old guys sit around in some dark smoky pub and pick four names out of a hat. The result of their musings was to pick Murdoch as the skip, but the 3 guys from Brewster’s world runner-up team.  They need to fix their qualifying process, and realize that curling is a team game, and that chemistry counts for more than pedigree. 
  • Team China, currently leading the men’s event, was in Quebec City to play the Victoria Open in December. They lost the quarter-final to Phil Lemay, and looked unimpressive. Surprised to see them doing so well at this level. I suspect their bubble will burst. 
  • Nick Edin (Team Sweden) looks like a very solid curling team. He has been playing in Canadian spiels and trying to pick up Canadian women for 5 or 6 years now. He is a regular at the Grand Slams and at the big events. I suspect it will come down to him and Jacobs at the end of the week.   


Some news out of the Quebec scene: I think I just moved up a spot in the Quebec Team rankings! It would seem that the #2 team and the #3 team (Ferland and Lemay) have merged into one uber-team. Francois Roberge and Shawn Fowler are stepping away from the game for a while, and Ferly will join up with Lemay. Seems like a good fit for both of them: Ferly was due for a change, Lemay seemed to not be having fun skipping this year and they are long-time friends and business partners off the ice. Not sure where everyone will play…remains to be seen. 
My source on this is pretty reliable, Ferly posted this on his Facebook page. 
(On a side note, I love that teams do "press releases" now to announce team changes. There was a press release from Team Kelly Scott breaking up, and I saw a press release this week about Stoughton flipping up his front end heading into the Brier finally putting Nichols at 2nd where he belongs. I think my team will put out a press release about our decision to go with Tim Horton's as our official breakfast choice at most spiels.)

Other than that, I have heard no official news from any of Quebec’s men’s or women’s competitive teams, but calls are being made and discussions are underway. I think we should do like hockey and set a trade-deadline date. Maybe TSN or RDS would cover it the same way they cover the insanely boring NHL trade-deadline date, with 47 analysts talking about the 4th line winger whose name you will never hear again getting shipped to Winnipeg for a 3rd round draft pick that will never make the NHL.


Very proud of my buddy Greg Balsdon who captured the Ontario title over Glenn Howard a few weeks ago, and will represent Ontario at the Brier in Kamloops. I had the pleasure of getting to know Greg at the last two Mixed Nationals, although we had played each other many times before at various cashspiels. 

Greg is an old-school curler:  competitive and intense on the ice, fun and amiable off of it. This is a man who refers to a pre-game beer as “aiming fluid”, who has gone to the Nationals in the Dominion with his club team, and gets the game far better than most will give him credit for. Glad to see him at a Brier – and I am sure TSN will run a couple of the pictures I sent them from the Mixed during the telecast. I can guarantee Ontario will be well represented, both on the ice and at the Patch. 

Here we are at the Mixed in Ottawa last year!

Now I just need to figure out a way for TSN to ask him how he injured his rib at Mixed Nationals on air…