OLYMPIC CURLING TRIALS: Motivated Gushue a win away from spot in final

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SASKATOON — For the last 15 years, Brad Gushue has been driven by the dream of getting back to the Olympics.

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He went there as a 26-year-old in 2006 and won a gold medal, a moment etched in the memories of Gushue, his teammates, and Canadian curling fans.

This weekend, the now 41-year-old Gushue will have a chance to book another ticket to the Winter Games when his St. John’s, N.L., team plays in the playoffs at the Canadian Olympic curling trials.

He’s that close, again, just a couple of wins away in fact, after running his record to 6-1 with a 10-1 win over Kingston, Ont.’s Tanner Horgan on Thursday afternoon at SaskTel Centre.

“We’re in a good place right now,” Gushue said. “Win tomorrow (against 4-2 Mike McEwen) and we’re in the final and worst-case we’ll be in the semifinal and we’ll have another chance to get to the final, which is nice.”

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Just because Gushue and his long-time third, Mark Nichols, have been to the Olympics before, it doesn’t mean their burning desire to get back has waned.

They’d love to do it for themselves, their country, their province, their city and for their teammates, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker, who haven’t had the pleasure of being Olympians before.

“You know what, it’s been driving me for a lot longer than just this week,” Gushue said. “If you’re not motivated by the Olympics, you probably don’t keep doing what we’re doing.

“It’s been hard, as a curler, to travel for the last year. For us, getting out of Atlantic Canada for the better part of a year was almost impossible and then going through the Brier bubble (last March). We do it cause we love it, we do it cause we want another opportunity to get to the Olympics, cause it is an incredible experience, it’s a life-changing experience.

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“The luxury that Mark and I have, it’s probably not going to change our lives cause we’ve been there, but certainly for Brett and Geoff, or any other athlete that has a chance to win this week that hasn’t been there, it is a life-changing experience.”

Gushue is not exactly home-free at this point.

While he’s at the top of the standings with one game left, Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. — also an Olympic gold medallist — is right on his tail at 5-1.

The two Brads have been the best skips in the building all week — and that is reflected in the standings and the curling percentages (Jacobs 93%, Gushue 89%) — and it almost seems inevitable that they’ll meet again on the weekend.

“Ever since we got here, everyone has had a great attitude, everyone is excited to play and I would say everything is clicking right now with our team,” Jacobs said. “There’s no doubt about it — everybody knows that in order to win something like this, it’s gonna take all four guys giving their absolute best version of themselves as athletes and as people to every single game. That’s what we’ve been able to do so far and it’s nice to have been able to get five wins from doing it.”

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Jacobs closes out the round-robin with games against McEwen and Horgan (1-5), but even if he wins both, he could be relegated to second place because his only loss so far was against Gushue. A bye to the final will go to Gushue if he beats McEwen Friday night.

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MCEWEN STILL IN MIX

It’s possible Winnipeg’s McEwen could still get the top spot, although it will be a major task to make it happen. If McEwen beats both Jacobs and Gushue on Friday, his team would be 6-2 and hold the tiebreaker over both those teams.

That whole scenario could be complicated by Kevin Koe of Calgary, who is also 4-2, and could get to 6-2 with wins over Jason Gunnlaugson and John Epping Friday.

So let’s just say Friday could be a very interesting day at the trials.

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“We’ve got an opportunity to bring two teams back,” McEwen said. “Can’t ask for anything more. We control our own destiny going into Friday and that would have been our goal from the start, to not be relying on anybody else on the last day.”

COOL EXPERIENCE

Jacob Horgan, the 21-year-old alternate player on the team skipped by his older brother, got his first taste of Olympic trials action on Thursday, coming in at skip for the last end of a blowout loss to Gushue.

“It was really cool,” he said. “It’s hard to find the words for it, but just getting out there in the huge arena, with everybody watching is pretty hard to describe, but I really enjoyed it.”

Jake Horgan is one of the youngest competitors ever to take part in the Olympic trials and it was a nice experience in itself to be on the ice with Gushue, a legend of the game.

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“I feel like I’ve been watching him my whole life really,” said Jake Horgan, who is also front-running women’s skip Tracy Fleury’s brother. “It’s a great experience and I enjoyed the moment.”

‘DEER IN HEADLIGHTS’

Marc Kennedy has been to the Olympics twice before, winning a gold medal with Kevin Martin in 2010 and finishing fourth with Koe in 2018.

He believes his experience — and that of teammates Jacobs, E.J. Harnden and Ryan Harnden, who all have gold medals as well — is one of the reasons his team will have a good shot at winning it all this weekend.

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“I was a deer in the headlights,” Kennedy said of the first time he played in the Olympic trials playoffs. “I look back at my first trials semifinal, in Halifax in 2005, and we lost … we just weren’t ready for that one.

“But even in Edmonton in 2009, I was just so thankful that I had Kevin Martin and John Morris to clean up my messes. It’s hard, emotionally, because the thought of being an Olympian — and it’s that close — can be a little bit overwhelming.”

The big difference now is that the pressure doesn’t feel as intense when you’ve already been there before.

“It’s crazy to say, but at the end of the day, if we don’t win it, it’s OK,” Kennedy said. “We’ve been there before, so we’re not gonna be holding the sticks too tight. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be to two Olympics and if I don’t get to go again, it’s OK.

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“Now I can just come out there and have some fun and play my best and I’m not afraid of losing, and that helps. It keeps us a little bit more calm and collected. I think if you haven’t been to the Olympics, you have no choice but to think about what it would be like. For us, we’ve been there, done that, and that helps us stay in the moment.”

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Twitter.com/Ted_Wyman

STANDINGS

WOMEN

x-Fleury          6-0

Jones               5-2

McCarville      4-3

Einarson         3-3

Scheidegger   3-3

Harrison         2-4

Walker            2-4

Homan            2-4

Rocque           1-5

x-Clinched playoff spot

THURSDAY SCORES

DRAW 13

Fleury 11, Walker 7

Homan 7, Jones 5

McCarville 8, Rocque 7

Scheidegger 7, Harrison 6

DRAW 15

Rocque vs. Harrison

Walker vs. McCarville

Fleury vs. Scheidegger

Einarson vs. Homan

MEN

x-Gushue        6-1

Jacobs           5-1

Koe                 4-2

McEwen         4-2

Epping            3-3

Gunnlaugson  2-4

Bottcher         2-5

Horgan           1-5

Dunstone       1-5

x-clinched playoff spot

THURSDAY SCORES

DRAW 14

Jacobs 8, Koe 2

Bottcher 7, Gunnlaugson 6

Gushue 10, Horgan 1

McEwen 6, Epping 2

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