The days of pot-bellied skips owning the ice are long gone at the Tim Hortons Brier.
Fitness is in fashion at the Canadian men's national curling championship and Northern Ontario is leading the way. Team second Ryan Harnden spends two hours in the weight room six days a week. His yellow shirt is stretched so tight his arms look like fire hydrants.
"It gets us through a full week of curling," Harnden said. "This Brier takes a toll on you.
Winnipeg picked as Olympic trials host
Winnipeg has been selected as the host city for the 2013 Canadian Olympic curling trials.
The event will determine Canada's representatives for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The trials will be held Dec. 1-8, 2013, at the MTS Centre, the Canadian Curling Association announced Wednesday.
Ottawa and Saskatoon were also in the running. The 2009 event was held in Edmonton.
"[This is] the best curling in the world, without a doubt. I think there's still no doubt that Canada provides the best curlers and we are proud to bring them to Manitobans and the surrounding area," said Shane Ray, the executive director of Curl Manitoba, the organization responsible for curling in the province.
The trials are expected to generate more than $24 million in economic activity in the province, said Ray.
"It's a long, long week and to be able to stay in shape, it really helps you get through. Especially the games near the end of the week."
At 5-4, Northern Ontario still has a slim chance to make the playoffs after posting two victories Wednesday. Skip Brad Jacobs guided his rink to a 5-4 win over Ontario's Glenn Howard and followed it up with a 9-2 rout of Prince Edward Island.
"You never want to come to the Brier and bomb," said Jacobs. "So to be one game above .500, honestly I feel good. We want to get the next two [wins] tomorrow."
Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton defeated Alberta's Kevin Martin 5-1 in the evening's feature match to move into first place at 8-1. Martin started the day with an 11-3 rout of Saskatchewan but couldn't get on track against Stoughton.
The Olympic champion missed a takeout attempt in the third end, giving Manitoba a steal of two and a lead the two-time national champion wouldn't relinquish.
"After three ends we were just ripping everything," Stoughton said. "That's what worked out great. The peels were just on fire. [Third] Jonny [Mead] was making every double and runback there was imaginable and [second] Reid [Carruthers] made everything and Steve [Gould] set up the ends perfect.
"I mean if you have your lead off centre or not putting those rocks in good spots then you can get in a little bit of trouble. I mean it was a simple game, but we sure played well."
Martin said Manitoba's shots -- and Mead's efforts in particular -- were near perfection.
"Holy smokes," Martin said. "I hope they cool down a little."
Martin fell into a three-way tie at 7-2 with Ontario's Glenn Howard and Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador. Jacobs is the only rink with a chance to catch the top four teams entering the final day of the round robin Thursday. It's a longshot though -- he needs to win his remaining games and hope one of the second-place teams loses twice just to move into a tie.
Jacobs' teammates on the Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., rink are also in their mid-20's and they all work out. Harnden, who works as a real estate appraiser, said he usually hits the gym in the evenings. The six-foot, 190-pounder adds a half-hour of cardio to his routine every other day.
"Sweeping as hard as you were at the end [of the game] as you were in the first end, that's what it's all about these days," Harnden said. "Being physically fit. You've got to grind out those wins like we did today."
Curling is nowhere near as physically taxing as other sports. However, every little bit of muscle and endurance can help put a touch of extra zip on the broom late in a game. Harnden, who can bench-press over 300 pounds, said it makes a big difference when you're playing against elite competition.
"We realized after playing against the top teams in the world, you need to be in good shape," he said. "Just to grind out some wins and get those rocks an extra few inches."
In the other late games, Quebec defeated the Northwest Territories/Yukon 10-4 and New Brunswick beat Nova Scotia 8-5.
Saskatchewan was at 4-5 after 14 draws while Nova Scotia, Northwest Territories/Yukon, B.C., Quebec and New Brunswick were all at 3-6. Prince Edward Island was last at 1-7.
A crowd of 4,517 took in the action at the John Labatt Centre.
That pushed the total attendance for the week to 63,574.