Brier 2016: Sweeping the way to Olympic qualification
While the Rio 2016 Olympic Games are five months away, the qualification process for curling at PyeongChang 2018 has already started.
From March 5 to 13, the 87th annual Brier, the men’s national championship, will take place in Ottawa. The winner of the tournament will then compete as Team Canada at the world championship in April in Switzerland. If they finish on the podium, they’ll qualify for the 2017 Canadian Curling Trials, also known as the Roar of the Rings.
This year, the Brier field will be full of talent, with 16 previous winners, 13 former world champions and nine Olympic gold medallists. Last year’s champions, Pat Simmons, Carter Rycroft and Nolan Thiessen will be seeking a third straight win, while John Morris is going for a second straight victory with the team.
This will be the 13th appearance at the Brier for Newfoundland’s Brad Gushue. His first appearance was in 2003 and he has competed at every Brier since then, except for 2006, when he was otherwise occupied winning Olympic gold at Turin 2006. Remarkably, he is still looking for his first national title and is currently at the top of the rankings. Ontario’s Glen Howard is making his record 16th Brier appearance, which he has won four times.
The nine Olympic gold medallists seeking a shot at competing at the Games again are Gushue, Mark Nichols (Team Newfoundland), John Morris (Team Canada), Mark Kennedy, Ben Hebert (Team Alberta), Brad Jacobs, Ryan Fry, E.J. Harnden, and Ryan Harnden (Team Northern Ontario). Rycroft of Team Canada won a silver medal at Salt Lake City 2002. Jacobs and company will be looking for the chance to go to PyeongChang to defend his team’s gold medal win at Sochi 2014.
While only the winning team moves onto the Olympic Trials (pending reaching the podium at Worlds), other teams will have more chances to qualify, including next year’s Brier champion. Kevin Koe’s team has already qualified as the winners of the 2015 Canada Cup, and the 2016 winner of that event will also move onto Trials. Two teams qualify from the Curling Pre-Trials along with three teams based on CTRS Standings. If a team earns more than one berth, the spot will go to the highest unqualified team in the rankings.
There will be high expectations for the curling teams going to PyeongChang, since Canada has won a curling medal in every Games since the sport made its Olympic return at Nagano 1998.