[You may have seen the now-semi-viral video of Ron Burgundy in the TSN broadcast booth on Day 1 of the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings and thought "Hey, curling! I haven't watched curling in a while. I want to get into it, but I wish I had an article explaining who to cheer for!" This is that article. You're welcome. If you want "facts" and stuff, here you go.]
In curling, the Olympics are everything.
You can win a shitload of money on the tournament circuit. Win national championships. World championships. Have your own paper towel commercial (why does she even need to steal the guy's broom?) Have your own Swedish heavy metal video.
Nothing matters until you can add Olympic Medalist to your portfolio.
This week, the Canadian Olympic curling trials are happening, and the road to Sochi goes through Winnipeg. The top 8 men's teams and top 8 women's teams (well, maybe top 6 and a couple of place-fillers, but we'll get to that) in Canada are competing for that one shot to wear the maple leaf, to march into an Olympics stadium alongside skiers and speedskaters and Sidney Crosby and other people who actually look like athletes, to bring back a gold medal as the whole world watches. Well, at least as Canada watches, and maybe a few Swedes and insomniacs too lazy to change the channel.
The Olympic trials, officially called the Tim Hortons Roar Of The Rings, are - to quote the man who kicked off the event with live commentary from the broadcast booth - kind of a big deal in Winnipeg. They're being played at the MTS Centre, home of the Winnipeg Jets (who are on a 6-game roadtrip), and they expect capacity crowds for the weekend. Yes, capacity - as in, 15,000 actual people who are paying money to watch curling. Not even championships curling, the trials just to get into the Olympics.
Welcome to the weird, wonderful world of the 2013 Roar of the Rings.
Hi, I literally have no idea what curling is. What are they yelling? What does sweeping do?
What am I, Wikipedia?
This is a 200-level course, so, if you don't understand the basics of what curling is, this will probably all sound like Martian to you. Sorry. Props if you want to keep reading anyways.
Curling is stupid ahaha what's with the sweeping. My wife likes sweeping I bet she'd be a great curler ahahaha. Curling isn't a real sport!!
Why can't they just send the four best curlers in the country and tell them to make a team? Why have this big tournament?
Unlike hockey or basketball, you can't just assemble an all-star team from the best individual curlers in the country. Curling teams are tight-knit operations: they know each other's tics, they build a strategy together, they sleep in shitty motel rooms from Moose Jaw to Moncton together, and they sit cross-legged on the endboards together during the 5th-end break, drinking juice boxes and eating orange slices and graham crackers. (This is a real thing curlers do, and it might be the most adorable part of curling. It's like a kid's soccer game.) But anyways: top-level curling teams are well-oiled machines. That's why the Olympic trials are such a big deal. The person playing lead on the team that goes to Sochi won't be the 4th best curler in Canada, but he will be the guy that's played with this four-man team for years, training for this moment, playing against all of these other teams in small cash-prize tournaments on a weekly basis. A lot of these teams have Biggie/Tupac-level beef with each other. Players have been kicked off of teams, ex-players have formed new teams - with all due respect to Degrassi, the drama of curling is the best soap opera in Canada. Don't let the polite Canadian handshakes fool you, some of these teams loathe each other.
This is just one country's Olympics trials though, what's the big deal?
It's the country when it comes to curling. Right now, 20 of the top 30 men's teams in the world are Canadian. The top 6 teams are all Canadian, and feasibly, any one of them could win Olympic gold on any given day. (Women's curling has a bit more international parity, especially from Japan and China deciding to become curling powerhouses out of nowhere, but not much more.) The key is deciding which team to send. It's a bit cruel, in a way - all of these teams have been working for the past 4 years to win these trials as their #1 goal, and even though you might be the highest-ranked team in the world, you could have a bad game this week and Canada could end up sending the #2 team in the world to the Olympics. Or #3, 4, 5, 8, or 11. Those are the international rankings of the men's teams competing this week in Winnipeg, and any one of them is more than capable of winning Olympic Gold. (Well, maybe not John Epping's team. Poor Epping. But we'll get to that too.)
Imagine if 2-on-2 basketball was an Olympic event. Wouldn't the US Olympic trials be almost more fun than the actual Olympics? Say Lebron forms a team with Dwyane Wade. Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony form a team. Say Kevin Durant forms a team with... I dunno, Chris Paul or something. The talent's just so stacked that it's almost a shame that they can't all go. Do you cheer for Lebron's team even if you don't like him just so Team USA puts their best foot forward, do you cheer for Kobe for sentimental reasons so he can win Gold before he retires? That's the sort of conflicting feelings that Canadian curling fans are going through. Do we hope for the brash unlikeable young team, or the grizzled veteran team? The team who's proven themselves at the Olympics before, or the team that deserves a shot based on hot play in the past year?
This week, they all have a chance to make the Olympics.
Except, y'know, John Epping's team. Sorry, John Epping.
Alright, you've got me pumped! So who are the teams?
Glad you asked. Here's your official guide to the 2013 Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings.
The biggest team in women's curling over the past decade. Also one of the most beloved. Also one of the most intensely hated. Jennifer can't help it. She's the fucking Lebron of women's curling.
Let's talk Jennifer Jones. 9-time Scotties champion, former World champion, face of the sport, paper towel shill, successful lawyer in her spare time, recovered gracefully just after having given birth to a kid in 2012 (sidenote: the year before an Olympics tends to be a bit of a baby boom in women's curling, as players all try to pop a kid out before it interferes with their Olympic run, sometimes curling when they're 6 months pregnant with a huge belly sliding along the ice), currently dating Brent Laing of Team Glenn Howard fame making for a couple you don't want to face on your Friday night mixed couples league, master strategist, maker of what may be the best shot in the history of the sport, blonde bombshell.
One thing she's never done during her decade-ish-long run as the skip of the most dominant curling team in the world? Gone to the Olympics. Those are the breaks.
She's a lot of people's odds-on favourite to take the whole tournament, and I have no doubt that she'd be biting nothing but gold on the Sochi podium if her team was selected to wear the red & white. But there are also a lot of people who hate Jennifer Jones. You just see it in the expression of old-timers sitting around curling clubs when the topic of Jones is breached: their faces suddenly sour like they've smelled a shot of tequila. Oh, that Jennifer Jones, she seems too intense. She's too bossy. And oh, what she did to poor Cathy!
That would be Cathy Overton-Clapham, Jennifer's longtime vice, who was unceremoniously dumped by her three teammates in the run-up to the Olympic trials and kicked off the team. Cold. And for a lot of people, it basically cemented Jones' reputation as the Regina George of the sport, the archetypical pouty, backstabbing blonde B. 44-year-old Cathy O was replaced at vice with spritely 24-year-old Kaitlyn Lawes (I guess she's Lindsay Lohan if I'm buying into this Mean Girls analogy, and no, not just because she's a ginger), and with her excellent shot-making front-end of Dawn McEwen-née-Askin and Jill "oh my God, you're on television, stop leaving your mouth dangling open at all times like a fish" Officer, you can never count them out.
Should I cheer for them?: Really your call. Watch a game and decide for yourself. Jones is a master strategist with a bit of a cat-and-mouse style, waiting to score a big end with a big shot, but sometimes they can dig themselves into a hole. They're always an exciting team, but I'm not kidding: a lot of curling fans just really hate Jennifer Jones.
Can I see a video of Kaitlyn Lawes doing a spin-o-rama shot?: That's an oddly specific request, but sure.
Odds of winning: 2-1
Ugh, that photo. Ugh, Rachel Homan.
Rachel Homan is Satan. Just a moody, pouty, overly-intense, teammate-blaming, screaming, broom-slamming terror of a 24-year-old. I've talked to people who've played against Rachel Homan. They can back me up on this.
Team Rachel Homan is the pizza burn on the mouth of women's curling.
They're also the best team in the country, possibly the world, at this moment. What they lack in crafty grizzled veteran strategy as a team barely out of school, they make up for in raw shot-making talent.
The worst thing is, as the curling equivalent of babies (they're all 24/25 years old and have played together since Juniors), they're just going to get better and better. Barring Rachel Homan having a meltdown and blowing her team up (not out of the realm of possibility!) these four will be dominating the Canadian curling stage for the next 20 years.
One of the hardest things I'll ever have to do in my life is to cheer for Rachel Homan when she wins the Trials and represents Canada at the Olympics.
Are they the best-looking team in the tournament: Yes, but that's not what's important here. They're the devil.
My impression of Rachel Homan missing a shot by 4 feet and passive-aggressively talking to her team: "I felt like I hit the broom, it was just like, y'know... [rolls eyes, chomps on gum] I dunno, I felt like you guys swept it too earlyyy? And like I dunno. Maybe next time just, like, don't ruin the shot with your sweeping? No, no- I'm not blaming you - it's just like, y'know - something to think about."
Odds of winning: 2-1
When this team's hot, they're hot. When they're not, they dissolve into a bit of shot-missing chaos. They're good, but they're vulnerable, with a middling 2013 in major tournaments so far. Still, they won the Scotties in 2012, so they can't be counted out.
If Rachel Homan represents the prissy Ontario country club set, Nedohin's foursome represents down-home, swearing, beer-drinking Alberta prairie hosers. Heather was mic'd up during their 2012 Scotties run and loudly said "Shitballs!" after missing a shot, which is just a hilarious thing for a middle-aged mom to yell on TV, and for some reason this became their rallying cry. Yes, that's a photo of her team wearing matching hashtag-shitballs shirts.
Curling is weird.
Should I cheer for this team: Yeah, probably. Or Jones if that's your thing. Or just pick a darkhorse, GO VAL SWEETING! Just not Homan, never Homan.
Odds of winning: 4-1
Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. (Well, I guess when she got married she was in a bride, but in curling? Always a bridesmaid.) All-around solid Saskatchewan-based team at major tournaments, but they haven't been able to get anywhere in the past 2 Olympic trials, or at the Scotties. Still, they've been hot on the circuit recently, currently ranked 3rd in CCA rankings, so they'll more than likely make some noise this week.
Or not! Maybe she'll just fall apart. Maybe in 2018, Stefanie.
Interesting facts about Stefanie Lawton or her teammates: There are literally none. Sorry.
Really, nothing? Does Stefanie Lawton at least have an interesting personal life?: She's an accountant. So, no.
Odds of winning: 4-1
Knocked off a lot of much-higher-profile teams at the pre-tournament Road To The Roar to get here (yes, there's a tournament to get to the tournament to get to the Olympic tournament), so she's earned her spot, even though she's a bit of a nobody. Still, if you come out on top against Kelly Scott and Amber Holland and Cheryl Bernard and Shannon Kleibrink and other teams that people have, y'know, heard of, you've earned your due. Sonnenberg's my darkhorse to win the whole thing, following in a proud tradition of Canada sending its 5th- or 6th-best women's team at the time (hi, Cougar Queen Cheryl Bernard!) after a hot Trials run. Still, just because she's my darkhorse pick doesn't mean I'm entirely comfortable with the idea of Renee Sonnenberg: Team Canada Skip.
Odds of winning: 5-1
Sherry Middaugh has had a long.... nah, y'know what... nahhh.
Sorry Sherry. You had a good run, and it'll be sad to see you burn out in the round-robin in what will probably be your last Olympic Trials, but this ain't happening.
Odds of winning: 7-1
Really? This is all we've got to round out the top 8? Yikes.
Alright, let's see... Val Sweeting has a low-profile young Alberta team who've only been on the scene for a few years, and snuck into the top-8 of the Trials off of strong tournament performance. They've recruited Amber Holland, former national champion skip whose team somehow didn't make the cut for the finals, as their alternate. That's one of the coolest thing about curling: picking up your defeated foes as your own backup players.
Chelsea Carey has a good team out of Manitoba, also home to Jennifer Jones, which explains why she's never made it out of her province, and why she's a lot lower-profile than some of these teams. Here's Chelsea Carey posing for the Women Of Curling annual softcore porn calendar, looking Photoshopped to all hell. Hey, photographer, you don't need to use all of the filters at once.
Anyways, I guess this'll be something to tell your grandkids about, Sweeting and Carey. Hope you didn't book the hotel through the playoffs.
[NOTE: I WROTE ALL OF THIS ON SUNDAY WHEN THE TOURNAMENT WAS STARTING AND VAL SWEETING WAS AN ALSO-RAN. NOW, AS I POST THIS, VAL SWEETING IS 3-0 AND HAS DEFEATED RACHEL HOMAN. OH GOD SHE'S GONNA WIN THIS, ISN'T SHE.]
Odds of winning: 8-1
Let's just have a Youtube intermission and watch this shot from 2009, and also appreciate the overdramatic Lord Of The Rings music that TSN uses for curling.
Glenn Howard IS men's curling. He's been there, he's won that. He's made that angle-raise-double-takeout. He's beaten that guy, and he's beaten that guy's dad 20 years ago. He won his most recent world championship in 2012, and his first world championship in 1987, back when he probably had a full head of hair and didn't look like a snaggletoothed Shrek. If you're a Canadian, at some point in the last 30 years he's probably shown up at your local curling club, won a morning game, had 7 beers, won 3 afternoon games, then hit on your mom at the local Boston Pizza.
At vice you've got the hired hand, Wayne Middaugh, one of the most successful skips of his generation in his own right but always in Howard's shadow curling out of Ontario - finally a while back he decided "hey, if you can't beat 'em..." and jumped ship to Howard. With Middaugh throwing big-weight bombs and the front-end of Laing & Savill dishing out laser-accurate draws and guards, they're like the Voltron of teams, combining skills to make one super-robot programmed to DESTROY. KEVIN. MARTIN.
Y'know one thing Glenn Howard doesn't have? An Olympics appearance. It seems almost hard to fathom. It would also be funny to see Glenn Howard, an elderly man in his 50s with aching joints, alongside handsome Olympic athletes with rippling abs.
Vic Rauter, joining us here to add emphasis: WILL THIS! BE THE OLYMPIC OPPORTUNITY... THE LAST SHOT AT GOLD MEDAL GLORY... FOR THE VETERAN!... GLENN HOWARD. HERE... IN BEAUTIFUL WINNIPEG, MANITOBA... HELLO CANADA,
Odds of winning: 2-1
The Yin to Glenn Howard's Yang. The Batman to his Superman. The two titans of curling. Both have a trophy case with enough gold to melt down into a Mr. T necklace. Both look more like aging dentists than Olympic-caliber athletes. Both have a star ringer at vice who can throw the nuclear-level weight. Both have young, accurate front end pairs who can sweep the linoleum off a bathroom floor.
Y'know one thing Kevin Martin has, though? A gold medal.
Y'know what else Kevin Martin has that Glenn doesn't? A trick up his sleeve sitting on the bench. BRAD FUCKING GUSHUE.
If you've read the article this far and you're not excited about the idea of Brad Gushue on Kevin Martin's team, I'm impressed you're still trying to follow along. Brad Gushue! The Great Newfie Hope! After Brad Gushue took home the gold medal and became a folk hero, Newfoundland essentially sainted him on the spot. In his hometown of Mount Pearl, NL, there's a Brad Gushue Sports Complex and a Team Gushue Highway. After Gushue's team was bounced from the Road To The Roar, he jumped ship to Team Kevin Martin, acting as their alternate in case Kevin Martin's back goes out.
Yes, this is a real concern about an Olympic athlete: he might throw his back out, because he's nearly 50.
What happened to Johnny Mo? They booted him off, and he's now skipping his own team, also in the Trials. Dramaaaa!
Kevin Martin is an Olympian and yet he looks more like: Either Officer Lahey going through meth withdrawal, or a poorly-aging version of Anthony Edwards on ER.
Can we talk about how many streets in Newfoundland have been named after Brad Gushue and his teammates: 8, with that subdivision made up of 7 Gushue-themed streets, plus the Gushue highway. It's like all Newfoundland has going for them is Brad Gushue, Republic Of Doyle and screech.
Remember when Dave Nedohin was a guest star on Corner Gas?: No? Corner Gas sucked.
Odds of winning: 2-1
The shiniest head on the ice, and also one of the hottest teams on the circuit. One of the best teams in the world for the past few years, Kevin Koe's one weakness has always been the fact that he plays out of Alberta, which has two disadvantages: A) he has to live in the province of Alberta *spit*, and B) that Kevin Martin's always blocked him. That changed in 2010 when Martin's team passed on the Alberta championships to prepare for the Olympics, and Koe took advantage, winning Alberta and then going on to win the Brier.
Koe's another team with a ringer at vice brought in for the Olympic run: Pat Simmons, longtime Saskatchewan skip and professional chiropractor. At second they've got former Kevin Martinite and boy-wonder 36-year-old-who-looks-20, Carter Rycroft. They're a good team. Good enough to beat Martin and Howard? I guess... maybe.
Any random reason I should like Koe's team?: Once they found a bunch of old vintage curling sweaters on eBay from the 50s mothballed in some guy's attic, bought them, and wore them for a Grand Slam tournament. Sure beats other shittier uniforms.
I've got an oddly specific request, do you have an animated gif of Kevin Koe in 1994 with a full head of hair, just looking back and forth for some reason?: Yes, yes I do.
Odds of winning: 3-1
The third member of the Old Man Living Legend holy trinity alongside Martin and Howard, here you've got a guy with 10 Brier appearances out of Manitoba, 3 Brier wins, a 50-year-old face that looks about a hundred years more youthful than Kevin Martin's 47-year-old face, the ability to do a 360 spin-o-rama shot (you can see him do it during a cameo appearance in Men With Brooms, a movie that all curlers watched because it was a curling movie, and then immediately regretted because it was fucking garbage), and a top-to-bottom solid team. Vice Jon Mead can make the big shots, and Team Brad Gushue refugee Mark Nichols at lead is deadly accurate. Like Martin and Howard, this is probably his last kick at the can in terms of making the Olympics.
Odds of winning: 3-1
Here's how tough this field is: the goddamn reigning Canadian national champion is seen as a bit of a longshot. They brought great pride to Northern Ontario when they won the Brier last year. Before Brad Jacobs taught them to be proud of their curlers, Northern Ontarians just spent their days mining for nickel, getting drunk in Tim Hortons parking lots listening to BTO, and giving each other chlamydia.
Jacobs has a good team. He's got another Gushue refugee, Ryan Fry, at vice. They seem like nice guys that you'd want to hang out with. You should cheer for them.
In those green & yellow Northern Ontario uniforms, including the dweeby baseball cap, they look like: The guys you'd hire to remove weeds from your lawn.
Odds of winning: 3-1
Johnny Mo is the hunkiest man in curling. Look at him, working out! Look at him here, featured on some sort of gay hunk admiration website! God, he's handsome. Not a bad curler, either.
After getting ousted from Kevin Martin's team (where he was a major component in their Olympic gold medal, becoming something of a face of the sport) during the run-up to the Trials, Morris - who had a reputation as a bit of a young-gun, broom-slamming, curse-yelling hothead - was left to his own devices. He formed a team with Jim Cotter's BC-based foursome, calling the game but throwing vice rocks, where he's most comfortable throwing face-melting peels. They've made for a pretty good unit, cruising through the Road To The Roar to punch their ticket to Winnipeg, and you just know that a faceoff with his former Martin teammates here is going to get ugly.
Did I mention Johnny Mo is a firefighter? And that he's single? LADIES.
Odds of winning: 4-1
Mike McEwen has a great chance of heading to the Sochi Olympics. That's because he's married to Dawn Askin, on Team Jennifer Jones, so he'll probably book a ticket to watch his wife play. The rest of his team? They're good, don't get me wrong - they were ranked as high as 2nd in CCA rankings last year - but they just always seem to fuck up the big game somehow. They're definitely the best team to have never made the Brier.
Also, can we talk about Mike's appearance on the front of the new porn-y Men Of Curling calendar? Looks like his Russian travel arrangements are as flexible as his limbs.
Odds of winning: 5-1
NOT GOING TO HAPPEN
Odds of winning: Narnia
Val goddamn Sweeting somehow makes the playoffs, following a rich tradition of Canada putting its not-quite-best-foot forward by sending a lower-profile women's team. 2002: Kelley Law, 2006: Shannon Kleibrink, 2010: Cheryl Bernard. Good-but-not-great teams that came out of nowhere to represent Canada at the Olympics, and have all fizzled out since. You're the one hit wonder of the week, Val Sweeting!
Jennifer Jones leads the whole game, before unravelling: Jones gives up a big end, exchanges icy stares with her vice Lawes after a flubbed takeout, and then Jones flashes her open draw in the 10th to seal the deal... and somehow, there we are. Homan-Sweeting in the Finals. Good Lord.
Homan and her horsewomen of the apocalypse cruise through the finals with machine-like precision, making crisp draws and sharp hits and furrowing their eyebrows and biting their lips, until suddenly the camera zooms in on Homan in a freeze-frame: "I HAVE TO GO NOW. MY HOME PLANET NEEDS ME." Homan floats away up and out of the arena. An addendum announced by Vic Rauter will inform the audience that Rachel Homan died on her way back to her home planet.
Oh Christ, here we go. Have fun getting bronze in Russia, Val Sweeting.
Here we go! The GRUDGE MATCH! Martin comes into the match with a grumpy, businesslike scowl, while Johnny Mo is all white-toothed smirks and cocky confidence against his former team. It's a tight match until the 9th, when Morris' team engineers a perfectly constructed house of clustered guards and frozen shot rocks. Morris is on the endboards smirking in delight, when the wily old bear, Martin, digs deep into his strategic Chess master mind to figure out a circus shot that he'd first seen at a curling club located on top of a stripclub in Oromocto in '82. A winding, smashing double-raise angle-back triple-takeout. The game is Martin's. Morris, the young gun shown up by the old master, flies into a rage - ripping his polo shirt open and smashing his broom over his face.
This is it, the two living legends of the game in what should be an exciting match! Problem is, it won't be. Kevin Martin and Glenn Howard have played each other roughly a thousand times already. They know each other so well, they'll just play the most boring, guard-peeling, wide-open game, blanking ends and taking undramatic singles until Howard finally takes home an incredibly boring 4-2 game.
He will then go to Russia, and steamroll the competition like a furious moose. He will stand on the podium, 51 years old, a single tear leaving the veteran's eye as O Canada plays. If you've read this entire article, I have a feeling it will be something you'd enjoy.