Curling

CBC Sports - Monday Nov. 4, 2013 12:47 ET

Road to the Roar will crown final teams for Canada's Olympic trials

5 questions with CBC curling expert Mike Harris

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Some of the big names that will compete at the Road to the Roar in Kitchener starting on Nov. 5 include, from left to right, Cheryl Bernard, Brad Jacobs, Shannon Kleibrink, and Brad Gushue. (CBCSports.ca/The Canadian Press)

This year’s pre-Olympic curling qualifying tournament — the Road to the Roar — is in Kitchener, Ont., Nov. 5-9. There are 12 teams in the men's and women's draws at the tournament, competing for the remaining two qualifying berths for the Olympic trials — Roar of the Rings — Dec. 1-8 in Winnipeg.

The teams for the Road to the Roar are determined by points accumulated from the World Curling Tour over the past two years. Six teams received automatic berths in the Roar of the Rings.

The next 12 best teams must play in the Road to the Roar to fight it out for the last two spots. We chatted with CBC curling expert Mike Harris about what to expect this week in Kitchener.

CBC: Who do you see as the favourites on men’s side at the Road to the Roar, and why do you think they are the teams to beat?

MH: [Brad] Jacobs is, of course, the reigning Canadian champion and just moved to No. 1 on the world curling tour ranking list as well. People who don't follow curling closely are a little surprised [that he still has to go through the Road to the Roar]. Because he's the Canadian champion, everyone assumes he would be at the Olympic trials, but they were a first-year team last year and they ended up winning the Brier.

It's a two-year process to try to get into the Olympic trials and because they were a first-year team they just fell short of securing that that sixth and final spot. They are pretty clear favourites on the men's side to win one of the two spots.

Having said that, it's a really deep field. Brad Gushue's one of the teams that will be vying for a spot as well. John Morris, who played with Kevin Martin, quit that team at the end of last year and he's signed up with Jim Cotter's team from B.C. John is now skipping that team. And being a defending Olympic champion with Kevin [Martin] in Vancouver — he is going to have a lot to say about whether or not Jacobs or Gushue gets through.

CBC: What about on the women’s side? 

MH: The women's side is so deep. There are six, seven, or more teams that have a good shot. Cheryl [Bernard] might be the biggest name along with Shannon Kleibrink. Those are the past two Olympic reps.

There are five or six that could also win as well — Crystal Webster from Calgary has Cathy Overton-Clapham [formerly of Jennifer Jones's rink] playing third on her team. Of the 12 teams in the women's side, 10 of them have an outside shot and six or seven are favourites. It’s much more wide open than on the men's side. It wouldn't shock me to see any of the teams get through there. No one is having a really stand-out start to the year there. 

CBC: Having to fight through other Olympic hopefuls just to get into the Olympic qualifier — how important is this in terms of momentum? 

MH: It's one of those things where you know when you do win, it'll give you some extra confidence going into the Olympic trials, but having said that there's a whole new level of team at the trials, especially on the men's side. For anyone [at the Road to the Roar], aside from Jacobs and Gushue, to [go on to] win the Olympic trials, would be a major, major feat.

CBC: And the women?

On the women's side, you have Jennifer Jones and Rachel Homan [already qualified for the Olympic trials]: they are 1-2 and the only reason is because they're winners. They've won the [Tournament of Hearts] and bonspiel after bonspiel.

Any two teams that get through the Road to the Roar, they'll have confidence. But they'll have to step it up twice, [and] that's asking a lot. Of all the 24 teams, Jacobs is probably the best equipped to do that but it's really difficult to say.

CBC: Speaking of momentum, how important are the results at cashspiels leading up to the Olympic qualifiers? Case in point may be the Shorty Jenkins Classic where Jacobs won over rinks that already booked their spots in Winnipeg. Can Jacobs and his team take confidence from results like these? 

MH: Absolutely. When they won the Brier, their biggest performance, Brad even admitted that losing the final of a Grand Slam event last year was [still a highlight of his career]. Then, of course, [they won] the Brier and the first two events of this year. They started off great and are playing well.

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