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Cathy O taking one last shot at Olys

Now curling out of Alberta, hopes to make Roar

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Cathy Overton is back in her hometown, curling in the Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Classic at Fort Rouge.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Cathy Overton is back in her hometown, curling in the Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Classic at Fort Rouge. Photo Store

Winnipeg's Cathy Overton-Clapham is playing a rare home game at home this weekend.

If that sounds confusing, that's because so is Overton-Clapham's life right now.

The winningest female curler in the history of Manitoba has taken her show on the road this fall, setting up shop in Alberta and curling third for Calgary's Crystal Webster in a last-ditch effort to qualify for the Olympic curling trials that will be held at the MTS Centre in December.

The Olympics is the only major curling event in which Overton-Clapham hasn't played during a hall of fame career that's seen her win five Canadian women's championships and a world women's championship.

And so at the age of 44 and with the window quickly closing on her Olympic aspirations, the mother of two has left behind her family in Winnipeg this fall to move to Calgary and take one final shot at Olympic glory with the Webster foursome.

"It's been hard -- I'm not going to lie. The travel is hard and being away from the family is tough," Overton-Clapham said Saturday afternoon after an 8-1 loss to Scotland's Eve Muirhead bounced her team to the C-side at the $60,000 Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Women's Curling Classic taking place this weekend at Fort Rouge Curling Club.

"But it's all about the Olympic trials and hopefully getting there. And we have the pre-trials next week, so we'll see what happens."

The pre-trials to which Overton-Clapham refers is more formally known as the Road To The Roar. It's being held in Kitchener, Ont., Nov. 5-10 and Webster's is one of 12 teams that will be vying to become the final two women's teams to qualify for the Roar of the Rings in Winnipeg, where Canada's curling representatives for the 2014 Winter Olympics will be determined.

Overton-Clapham's former teammates on the Jennifer Jones team already have their trials spot, as does Winnipeg rival Chelsea Carey. The other four women's teams already qualified for the trials are Saskatchewan's Stefanie Lawton, Alberta's Heather Nedohin and Ontario's Sherry Middaugh and Rachel Homan.

Overton-Clapham has no illusions about what's at stake for her in Kitchener at the pre-trials. "This is my last shot at the Olympics -- for sure," she says. "And so yeah, this has been hard. But I really wanted to give it one last try."

While she's made short visits home to Winnipeg a couple of times this fall -- and had her daughter fly out to stay with her in Calgary once -- Overton-Clapham has been more or less living in Calgary the past couple of months with her sister, Kim, who already lived there.

That's allowed the Webster team to practice together this fall in addition to competing together at weekend bonspiels, a luxury not all of these sorts of inter-provincial curling teams have.

And having Overton-Clapham move to Calgary also means that should this bid for a trials spot not work out, the foursome can pursue a secondary goal -- trying to win an Alberta championship in January.

Because she has established an Alberta residence, Overton-Clapham is playdowns-eligible in Alberta and says she has every intention this winter -- if her Olympic bid falls short -- of trying to add an Alberta championship to her seven Manitoba women's titles.

"It would be awesome to compete in Alberta," Overton-Clapham says. "It's such a strong curling province, I'm really looking forward to it. Just winning another provincial title would be really special given the situation -- just putting together a team the way we did and having success would be awesome."

Overton-Clapham's most recent Manitoba-based team broke up at the end of last winter after a disappointing 2012-13 season and Overton-Clapham's initial reaction at the time was to say she'd use the opportunity to "step away" from the game.

But then the opportunity arose last spring to curl this season with Webster, who is widely regarded as the best female curler in Alberta never to win a provincial women's title. The team also includes at second a former Canadian women's finalist, Geri-Lynn Ramsay, who as a member of Team P.E.I. lost the final of the 2010 Scotties to Overton-Clapham when the latter was still playing with Jones.

That 2010 Scotties championship was the third straight Canadian women's title for the Jones team at the time, but the skip fired Overton-Clapham as her third shortly after that season in a surprise move that continues to have reverberations in the Canadian women's game.

While both women have gone on to have more success on-ice since they parted -- Jones won Manitoba titles in 2013 and 2013, while Overton-Clapham won in 2011 -- neither has been able to win a Canadian title since parting ways, after winning four of them in six years while they were together.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 27, 2013 B7

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