Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

City stages another great curling event, sends hometown heroine to Olympics

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Jason Halstead / Winnipeg Free Press

Third Ryan Fry of the Brad Jacobs rink throws a stone.

Well, that was cathartic.

A curling-rabid province that has never before sent a team to the Winter Olympics will send its first to Sochi in February.

A curling icon who had won everything but the right to represent her country at the Olympics will be that team.

And a city that leads the nation in self-flagellation proved once again it can stage a major sporting event with style and to universal acclaim -- and do it in the most impossible of weather conditions.

Was it perfect, these Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings that wrapped up at the MTS Centre Sunday with Brad Jacobs taking the men's final, 7-4 over John Morris? Hardly.

But a year or two from now, no one is going to remember the blizzard that hit in the middle of the event or the -30 C cold snap that followed unrelentingly in the aftermath.

'I can tell you emphatically that Curl Manitoba will earn money from this'

-- host committee chairman Mitch Tarapasky

No one is going to remember the disappointing performance of the two Manitoba men's teams, Jeff Stoughton and Mike McEwen, who both finished with 3-4 round-robin records and never saw the playoffs.

And no one is going to remember the middling crowds that, when they were all counted up, represented the worst-attended Trials event since the first one held in the tiny Keystone Centre in Brandon in 1997.

No, what people are going to remember about the last week is Jennifer Jones, at the age of 39, raising her arms in triumph Saturday night and throwing that Olympic monkey, once and for all, from her back.

A decisive 8-4 win over Sherry Middaugh in the women's final, coming as it did after a 6-1 run through the round robin, left no doubt about who is the rightful women's team to represent Canada in Sochi. And it also erased, in one 10-end game, any lingering doubts about whether Jones and her current team -- third Kaitlyn Lawes, second Jill Officer and lead Dawn McEwen -- still have what it takes to win the big game.

Indeed, in the biggest game of their collective lives, these women did nothing less than shoot an eye-popping 92 per cent as a team. They not only rose to the occasion, they grabbed it by the throat and choked it out.

It was nothing less than a storybook finish, except for one caveat -- how come there weren't more spectators?

Organizers had three days to sell the women's final after Jones clinched a bye Wednesday night -- yet only 8,565 turned up in a 15,005-seat arena.

Yeah, it was cold. Yeah, it was on TV. But you're either still the world headquarters of curling -- as this city likes to think of itself -- or you're not. And a crowd like that for a game like that would seem to suggest it's the latter these days.

In the end, total attendance for the week was 136,771, which puts this year's Trials behind the 175,852 that turned up in Edmonton in 2009, the 159,235 that showed up in Halifax in 2005 and the 143,187 that attended the 2001 trials in Regina.

It's also almost 30,000 less than the 165,075 that turned up at the MTS Centre for the 2008 Brier, a mark host committee chairman Mitch Tarapasky boldly predicted prior to the start of the Roar would fall.

That was a brave and foolish prediction, given the structure of the 2008 Brier meant there were three more draws (22) than there were at the Roar (19).

 

And it also ignored the fact Briers always out-draw Trials events -- witness Edmonton, where 281,985 attended the 2005 Brier, over 100,000 more spectators than saw the Trials just four years later.

The good news is the other prediction Tarapasky made before the Roar will come true -- the event will turn a profit for local organizer, Curl Manitoba. "I can tell you emphatically that Curl Manitoba will earn money from this," Tarapasky said Sunday afternoon.

And the Canadian Curling Association, which had the bigger financial stake at the MTS Centre? Events director Warren Hansen said Sunday the numbers are still being tallied but he expected the event to basically break even, give or take a few bucks.

Whatever the final attendance numbers, the take from the curlers -- including the notoriously fastidious Kevin Martin -- was the event and its 1,000 volunteers ran a first-class operation that allowed the curling to take centre stage. It looked great on TV all week and played out to boffo ratings. And ice conditions -- a problem at the 2008 Brier -- were a non-issue this time around, thanks to improved infrastructure in the building since the Jets took over and great work by Olympic icemaker Hans Wuthrich of Gimli.

It worked pretty well, in other words. And, thanks to Jones, we were provided a searing and indelible image -- a quintessential portrait of perseverance -- that will define this event for years to come.

The lady's a survivor. And so are we. Rock on.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 9, 2013 0

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Updated on Monday, December 9, 2013 at 6:44 AM CST: Adds photo, changes headline, adds slideshow

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