Sports·THE BUZZER

Canada's Olympic curling battle is underway

CBC Sports' daily newsletter previews a pair of bonspiels this week that will help decide who gets to play for the right to represent Canada at the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Teams already fighting for a spot in February's Beijing Games

Rachel Homan, looking to rebound from a poor showing at the 2018 Olympics, has already booked a spot in both the women's and mixed doubles Canadian trials. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

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The road to Olympic curling starts tomorrow

In many ways, it began a while ago. Five men's and four women's rinks have already qualified for Canada's Olympic curling trials in Saskatoon in late November, which will decide who gets to play in the men's and women's tournaments at the Beijing Olympics this February. But the race for the rest of the spots in the 10-team trials fields heats up with a pair of bonspiels running concurrently from Wednesday to Sunday in Ottawa. Here's what to know about them:

Canadian Curling Trials Direct-Entry Event

As the name suggests, teams in this one can qualify directly for the trials. On the women's side, five teams will battle for three berths. The skips are 2021 Scotties Tournament of Hearts semifinalist Laura Walker (Edmonton), 12-time Scotties participant Suzanne Birt (Charlottetown), Corryn Brown (Kamloops, B.C.), Kelsey Rocque (Edmonton) and Casey Scheidegger (Lethbridge, Alta.). Meanwhile, five men's teams will fight for two trials tickets. They're skipped by four-time Brier winner (two as a skip) Glenn Howard (Penetanguishene, Ont.), 2017 trials finalist Mike McEwen (Winnipeg), 2020 and '21 Brier semifinalist Matt Dunstone (Regina), Jason Gunnlaugson (Winnipeg) and Colton Flasch (Saskatoon).

Canadian Curling Pre-Trials Direct-Entry Event

This one can only get you into the 14-team men's or women's pre-trials tournament (basically, the trials for the trials) in late October in Liverpool, N.S. From there, the top two men's and women's teams advance to the 10-team trials proper. So the eight men's and eight women's rinks involved in this event in Ottawa are a long way off from Beijing. The quality of the field reflects that — unless you're a hardcore curling fan, you probabaly won't recognize more than a couple of the skips. But the women's side includes 18-time Scotties participant Kerry Galusha and Laurie St-Georges, the 24-year-old Quebec skip who turned some heads at this year's Scotties by going 6-2 in the opening round before losing all four of her games in the championship pool. Read more about both Ottawa tournaments here

Where this is all headed 

The goal for everyone competing in Ottawa is to get to the Olympic trials, where some of the best teams in the world await. The women's trials field will include 2020 and '21 Scotties winner Kerri Einarson, six-time Scotties and 2014 Olympic champion Jennifer Jones, and three-time Scotties champ Rachel Homan, who won the trials four years ago. Tracy Fleury is also in. The men's tournament will be loaded too, with four-time Brier champ and 2018 Olympian Kevin Koe, former Brier and Olympic champions Brad Gushue and Brad Jacobs, and reigning Brier champ Brendan Bottcher having already clinched spots, along with John Epping.

Whoever wins the trials will try to help Canada bounce back from an awful showing at the 2018 Olympics in South Korea. Before that, no Canadian curling team had ever missed the podium since the sport returned to the Olympics in 1998. But in Pyeongchang, Koe's and Homan's rinks both failed to win a medal, and Homan's squad didn't even make the playoff round. Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris rescued Canadian curling from complete disaster by winning gold in the Olympic debut of mixed doubles, but the poor results in the traditional four-person events were a big blow to Canada's image as curling's dominant superpower.

Speaking of mixed doubles, the Canadian trials will be held Dec. 28-Jan. 2 in Portage la Prairie, Man. The 16-team field is still being decided, but we know it will feature the super-duo of Einarson and Gushue, who won the national championship this year. Their stiffest competition will likely come from the reigning Olympic champ Morris and his new partner, Homan.

Former Brier champ Glenn Howard is among the skips hoping to play his way into the Canadian Olympic trials this week. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Quickly...

Jim Hughson retired. The longtime Hockey Night in Canada play-by-play man spent 42 years calling games, starting on the radio in 1979 before he shifted to TV work for the Vancouver Canucks and Toronto Maple Leafs. Hughson graduated to national work for TSN and Sportsnet before joining HNIC and eventually replacing Bob Cole as its lead play-by-play man starting in the 2008-09 season. He also called Blue Jays and Expos baseball games for a time. Sportsnet, which produces Hockey Night in Canada, hasn't announced who will replace Hughson in the top play-by-play role, but Chris Cuthbert seems like the most obvious candidate. Read more about Hughson here.

And finally...

Former Canadian Olympic and Paralympic athletes did well in the election. 2004 Olympic kayak champion Adam van Koeverden (Ontario), three-time Paralympic swimming medallist Carla Qualtrough (B.C.) and 1996 Olympic marathon runner Peter Fonseca (Ontario), all Liberal incumbents, won their ridings. Get all the election results and analysis you could possibly want here from our friends at CBC News.

You're up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.

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