Sports·THE BUZZER

Canadian curling trials highlight a packed Olympic sports weekend

CBC Sports' daily newsletter guides you through the winter Olympic sports events to watch this weekend, including the most cutthroat qualifier of them all.

The competition will be fierce at one of the world's toughest qualifiers

Brad Gushue is favoured to win the Canadian Olympic men's curling trials, but he'll have to go through a gauntlet to do it. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

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All of the winter Olympic sports are happening this weekend

That's only a slight exaggeration. After a relatively quiet few weeks on the winter sports calendar, it suddenly seems like everything is going on at once. Get used to it. From here on out it's full-steam ahead to the Beijing Olympics, which officially open 11 weeks from today.

The marquee event this weekend is Canada's Olympic curling trials — maybe the most talked-about (and cutthroat) qualifier in the world. There's also a star-studded Grand Prix of Figure Skating stop, and we'll see if Canada's speed skaters can follow up on their stellar start to the World Cup season.

Here's what to watch in winter Olympic sports this weekend:

Curling: Canadian Olympic trials

The tournaments to decide who represents Canada in the men's and women's events in Beijing get underway Saturday in Saskatoon and conclude next Sunday (the mixed doubles trials are in January).

In recent years, there's been a lot of talk about how the rest of the world has "caught up" to Canada in curling, and the results support that to an extent. The sport's most powerful nation failed to win a medal in either the men's or women's events at the last Winter Olympics — the first time that's happened — and hasn't captured a world title since 2018. But Canada's depth remains the gold standard, and that's why the trials are so compelling.

Nine men's and nine women's teams are competing in Saskatoon, and arguably close to half of them would be favoured to win Olympic gold if they make it. The top contenders in the women's tournament are Kerri Einarson and Rachel Homan (they met in the last two Scotties finals, with Einarson winning both), Tracy Fleury (a Canadian-best 30-5 to start this season) and Jennifer Jones (six Scotties titles and Olympic gold in 2014). On the men's side, there's the Brads (Gushue, a three-time Brier winner and 2006 Olympic gold medallist; and Jacobs, the 2013 Brier winner and '14 Olympic champion), plus Kevin Koe (four-time Brier winner, 2018 Olympian) and Brendan Bottcher (the reigning Brier champ).

Gushue is the consensus men's favourite, but opinion is more split for the women. Einarson and Homan have the best blend of age and track record — they're both on the right side of 35, and Homan won three Scotties titles before losing the last two finals to Einarson. Jones is a legend who's still capable of being anyone on any given day, but at 47 she's on the downslope of her career. Fleury is the most intriguing. The 35-year-old has never reached a Scotties final, but her team is playing better than anyone in the country right now. Ken Pomeroy's statistical model rates them No. 1 in the country and gives them the best chance of winning the trials, slightly ahead of Homan and Einarson.

If you missed yesterday's newsletter, read more about Pomeroy's ratings and what he predicts for the trials here. Read CBC Sports curling reporter Devin Heroux's preview here. Join Devin and co-host Colleen Jones, live from Saskatoon, for the season premiere of That Curling Show tonight at 7 p.m. ET on the CBC Sports YouTube channel.

Grand Prix of Figure Skating: Internationaux de France

The second-last stop before the Grand Prix Final features several stars. The headliners are four-time world ice dance champions and Olympic gold-medal favourites Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France. They're back on home ice after sitting out the pandemic-marred 2020-21 season and then returning with a victory in Italy two weeks ago. The individual events are highlighted by reigning women's world champion Anna Shcherbakova of Russia and 2021 men's world championship silver medalist Yuma Kagiyama of Japan. They both won in Italy too, and had the lead after today's short programs in France.

Hoping to challenge Papadakis and Cizeron for ice-dance gold are Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, who won at Skate Canada International in late October and look like Canada's best hope for a figure skating medal at the Beijing Olympics. They placed second, trailing Pap and Ciz, in today's opening round. The other Canadians competing are Keegan Messing (sixth after the men's short), and Vanessa James and Eric Radford (third after the pairs short).

Speed skating: Long and short track World Cups

After a couple of quieter Olympics, Canada's long track speed skaters are expected to make a lot more noise in Beijing. The team's depth has really blossomed over the last couple of years, and the data company Nielsen Gracenote projects they'll win five medals in Beijing — nearly a quarter of the country's expected total. Judging by the results from last week's World Cup season opener, that might be underselling them.

Canadian skaters captured seven medals at the three-day meet in Poland, including a gold in women's team pursuit by Ivanie Blondin, Valérie Maltais and Isabelle Weidemann. The rest were silver — a pair by Laurent Dubreuil in the men's 500m races, and one each for Blondin (women's mass start), Weidemann (women's 3,000), Ted-Jan Bloemen (men's 5,000) and the men's pursuit team of Bloemen, Jordan Belchos and Connor Howe.

Another medal rolled in today as this week's World Cup meet in Norway got underway. Weidemann took silver in the women's 5,000. More could be in store as competition continues through Sunday.

Canada's short track speed skaters are also back in action as their World Cup circuit resumes in Hungary after a couple of weeks off. The best of the bunch right now is Pascal Dion, who took bronze in the men's 1,000m at each of the first two stops and won gold as part of a men's 5,000m relay. 2018 Olympic triple medallist Kim Boutin is still looking for her first podium of the season. She's 0-for-4 in her individual events.

Other stuff:

*The Canadian women's hockey team resumes its Rivalry Series vs. the United States on Sunday at 5 p.m. ET in Kingston, Ont. Canada won the first two games of the exhibition tour, and there are six more left after Sunday's matchup.

*The sliding sports — bobsleigh, skeleton and luge — are all opening their World Cup seasons. The top Canadian in today's skeleton races was Jane Chanell, who was seventh in the women's event in Austria. Bobsleigh begins tomorrow at the same venue, while luge gets going in China.

*Alpine skiing's meandering early-season schedule continues with a pair of women's slalom races in Finland on Saturday and Sunday. Things really get going next week with Alberta's Lake Louise hosting the season's first men's "speed" events (that's downhill and super-G), followed by the women's the following week.

How to watch:

The figure skating Grand Prix and the speed skating, sliding and alpine World Cups events are all being streamed live on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem. See the full schedule here. Saturday's Road to the Olympic Games show (1-6 p.m. ET on those streaming platforms and the CBC TV network) includes long and short track speed skating, luge, bobsleigh and skeleton. The curling trials are on TSN.

Can Canadian ice dancers challenge French duo on their home soil?

21 days ago
Duration 5:39
That Figure Skating Show previews the fifth stop on the Grand Prix circuit in Grenoble, France where Canadians Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier will get their chance against ice dance greats Papadakis & Cizeron. 5:39

Quickly...

Concerns over a missing Chinese tennis player are reaching beyond the sport. Peng Shuai, a 35-year-old who was once ranked No. 1 in women's doubles, disappeared after accusing a former top Chinese government official of sexually assaulting her. She made the allegation in a Nov. 2 post from her verified account on the Chinese social media platform Weibo. It was quickly deleted, and she hasn't been seen or definitively heard from since. Earlier this week, Chinese state media published what was purported to be an email from Peng to Women's Tennis Association chairman Steve Simon, in which the author wrote Peng is "not missing, nor am I unsafe" and claimed that the sexual-assault allegation "is not true". Simon said in a statement that the message "only raises my concerns as to [Peng's] safety and whereabouts" and added: "I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her." Several tennis stars, including Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, have voiced their concern for Peng, and many in the sport are demanding China show proof that she's safe. The crisis has even spilled into the Olympic world, helping reignite calls for a boycott of the Beijing Winter Games in response to China's alleged human-rights violations. A diplomatic boycott — one in which a country allows its athletes to compete but doesn't send any dignitaries — is "something we're considering," U.S. President Joe Biden said yesterday. Read about the case for a diplomatic boycott here.

The Canadian men's soccer team has its highest ranking in 25 years. Back-to-back home wins over Costa Rica and Mexico in World Cup qualifying have pushed Canada to 40th in FIFA's freshly released rankings — a height it last reached in 1996. Canada started the year at No. 72 and has been rising steadily with its successful qualifying run. Tuesday's momentous victory over Mexico moved the Canadians into first place in their region's qualifying tournament, though they're still behind the United States (12) and Mexico (14) in FIFA's rankings. Read more about Canada's march up the rankings here.

And finally…

Connor McDavid did it again. Remember that fabulous goal he scored a couple of weeks ago, when he slalomed through four Rangers defenders? McDavid produced a near carbon copy last night against Winnipeg. Check 'em out:

This weekend on CBC Sports

Along with all the winter Olympic sports events mentioned above, the live-streaming menu on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem also includes the International Swimming League playoffs, trampoline world championships, Canadian university soccer national championships, and the Yates Cup Ontario university football title game between Western and Queen's. See the full streaming schedule for times.

You're up to speed. Have a good weekend.

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