Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fans, peers back Cathy O

Overton-Clapham popular winner in battle royale of ex-teammates

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CHARLOTTETOWN -- In a game that is all about handshakes -- they signify the beginning and end of every curling contest -- this handshake was perhaps the most anticipated in the history of the sport.

Photographers from Reuters and The Canadian Press, plus a cameraman from TSN, stood by for 20 minutes prior to game time, ready to pounce the moment fellow Winnipeggers Jennifer Jones and Cathy Overton-Clapham shook hands here Wednesday night before their round-robin game at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

In the end, the encounter lasted barely a second -- a glance at each other, a quick shake and it was done. After all that anticipation, it was a bit of a letdown.

But it was the only thing that was a letdown Wednesday night as Team Canada's Jones and Team Manitoba's Overton-Clapham put on a display of curling that was one for the ages, one part high drama, one part gripping theatre and all of it great sport.

And the final result befit all the compelling drama as Overton-Clapham and her woeful Manitoba foursome -- they were just 2-6 coming into the game -- hung an 8-6 upset on the Jones juggernaut that will sting the Team Canada skip in more ways than one.

For starters, there will be the sting of having just been spanked in front of a national television audience by the same longtime teammate Jones so abruptly cast aside last spring.

If pure revenge on her former skip was what Overton-Clapham was seeking, she got it on every level. There was the final score, of course. But there was also the battle at skip, where Overton-Clapham schooled Jones, outshooting her 93-76, in a game that saw the former make everything -- draws, freezes, hits and rolls and, to seal the deal in the ninth end, an impossible pick for a back-breaking deuce.

It was one of the greatest performances ever by a woman who has won five Canadian titles and it came inside an arena that was raucously on her side -- from the fans who chanted "Cathy O" while giving her a standing ovation at game's end to fellow skips like B.C.'s Kelly Scott and New Brunswick's Andrea Kelly who made no secret with their cheering and high-fives who they were cheering for.

"I imagined the crowd being as great as it was," said Overton-Clapham. "I didn't imagine my peers being as excited and rooting for us -- that was fun.

"I wish we would have played this game on Saturday. Maybe it could have set the tone for the week. (The) team that was out there today, Team Manitoba, hasn't been here yet. Hopefully we can play like that tomorrow and finish off strong."

And the woman who Jones replaced Overton-Clapham with at third? Well, history will record that Canada third Kaitlyn Lawes shot just 73 per cent -- a full 20 points less than the woman she replaced. So yes, Jones will be stinging today even if she continued to maintain otherwise last night.

"It was just like playing any other skip," Jones deadpanned. "It felt like a game at the Scotties when it's Wednesday night and people are trying to get into the playoffs. It was a lot of fun to play and it was a great game for TV, which is what I've been saying all along... I thought their team played great. They outplayed us and deserved to win that game."

But perhaps the biggest damage Overton-Clapham did to her former skip was in the standings. The win meant little to Overton-Clapham's own Manitoba foursome, other than their third victory means the 2-9 Barb Spencer team in 2009 will remain the worst team Manitoba has ever sent to this event.

But the loss meant a lot in the standings to Jones, who went from being alone in second to suddenly being in a four-way logjam for second place, with only three of those teams advancing to the playoffs.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 24, 2011 C1

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