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ROBIN SHORT: Golden memories of Italy and Newfoundland and Labrador’s greatest sporting achievement

The gold-winning Olympic Team Gushue (from left) Brad Gushue, Mark Nichols, Russ Howard and Jamie Korab. (Missing from photo is Mike Adams). FILE PHOTO
The gold-winning Olympic Team Gushue (from left) Brad Gushue, Mark Nichols, Russ Howard and Jamie Korab. (Missing from photo is Mike Adams). — SaltWire Network File Photo

Sports Editor Robin Short recounts his experience watching Team Gushue's historic Olympic win in Italy

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

I’d shown up in plenty of time, after another relay of buses and trains. It had become old hat after two-plus weeks in Turin, Italy.

A five- or 10-minute dodge up the street from my media village digs, in a hamlet called Grugliasco, to the first bus stop.

A 10-minute drive into Torino, to a makeshift bus depot between the Torino Lingotto train station and the Main Media and International Broadcast Centres for the 2006 Winter Olympics.

The media centres were housed in an old Fiat car factory, the same building which had a race track on its roof and was used in the filming of the original version of “The Italian Job,” starring Michael Caine.

But most mornings in Torino, there’d be no need to drop into the media centre, except maybe to grab a coffee or something.

Rather, it was a walk over to the nearby Lingotto, for a 15 or 20-minute train commute to Pinerolo, the ancient little Italian town with its Catholic churches dating back hundreds and hundreds of years.

And where Olympic curling was being staged.

And where I learned of the Kyodo News.



It was 15 years ago this week that Brad Gushue skipped Canada, represented by his rink out of St. John's, to a win in the men's curling gold-medal final at the 2006 Winter Olympics. — Canadian Olympic Committee/olympic.ca
It was 15 years ago this week that Brad Gushue skipped Canada, represented by his rink out of St. John's, to a win in the men's curling gold-medal final at the 2006 Winter Olympics. — Canadian Olympic Committee/olympic.ca

During the curling competition, I’d sat in the same seat in the Palaghiaccio, the spiffy new arena built for the Olympics.

On this day — exactly 15 years ago from this Wednesday — it would be no different. I’d grab the same seat, which just happened to be directly behind the sheet of ice on which Brad Gushue and his St. John’s team would soon curl for Olympic gold.

So imagine the surprise to see a crude Kyodo News sign stuck, with a bit of Scotch tape, to my unofficial desk.

Turns out Kyodo News was and is the leading news agency in Japan, and its reporter — the one who commandeered the seat — tried to convince me to move elsewhere.

I had sat there for two weeks. Now, a team of Newfoundlanders, representing Canada, is curling for Olympic gold shortly. And I’ve got to find a spot in the broom closet somewhere, as the press area was rapidly filling up?

Not happening.

I’m somewhat certain the Japanese reporter had no clue as to most of what I was saying, but I think he understood the adjectives used.

I kept my seat and the great vantage point and I watched Gushue and his Canadian rink go on to win the gold medal.

Fifteen years ago yesterday, I witnessed Newfoundland and Labrador’s greatest sporting achievement unfold in Italy. Fifteen years. Unimaginable.

Gushue and teammates Mark Nichols, Mike Adam and Jamie Korab had qualified for the 2005 Olympic Curling Trials by winning the Canada Cup. Gushue then made headlines prior to the trials in Halifax, adding future Hall of Famer Russ Howard to the lineup as second, leaving Adam the team’s alternate.



Some dubbed the decision “The Shrewd of Turin.”

Gushue and Co. didn’t merely show up at the trials ready to be a doormat for the more established Canadian teams, like those skipped by Randy Ferbey, Kevin Martin and Jeff Stoughton. 

Stoughton, a world champion, went so far as to declare the (mostly) young Newfoundland team as having “no chance” at winning the trials.

Gushue sailed through the round-robin 8-1, then beat Stoughton, ironically enough, in the final to punch his ticket to Italy. There would be no references to Gushue being the, “broken man on a Halifax pier.”

Mainland media took notice, though not all in the most positive way. One Toronto writer described the win as the, “biggest thing to happen in The Land Cod Forgot since the invention of the pogey cheque.”

Almost as bad as Margaret Wente’s 2005 column in the Globe and Mail which described Newfoundland. among other things, as a welfare ghetto. (Which sparked an amusing discussion on press row one day in Torino on how exactly Newfoundlanders felt about Wente.)

It could be argued Gushue would not have won the trials without Howard, who’d been around the curling block, knew the game like the back of his hand, and was just what the doctor ordered for a young, inexperienced squad.

Torino proved even more of a challenge, however. There was the constant complaining about the ice at the Palaghiaccio and especially about the rocks that were being used.

Said Nichols at the time, “It just wasn’t the same relaxed atmosphere we had in Halifax.



The curlers also weren’t quite as sharp as they had been at the trials, but the Newfoundlanders played well enough early on to sit 4-1 and tied for first with Great Britain.

That included a gritty 6-5 win over Norway’s Pal Trulsen, the tobacco-chewing reigning gold medallist from the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

Trulsen’s penchant for enjoying a dip prompted the Toronto Star’s witty columnist Dave Perkins to surmise to the Canadian reporters, “Now we know what’s causing those rocks to pick.”

Gushue then dropped an 8-7 decision to Finland’s Markku Uusipaavalniemi, leaving Canada at 4-2 and tied for second with the Finns and American Pete Fenson, the Minnesota pizza-maker.

It would be the first of two straight one-point losses for Gushue and Co.

It might not have been 1980 in Lake Placid, N.Y., but Italy enjoyed its own little Miracle on Ice moment 26 years later when the host country shocked Canada 7-6 in curling.

“Fantastico,” shouted one volunteer after the game-winning draw to the button by Italian skip, Joel Retornaz, who had become a bit of a home-ice rock star, with his designer glasses, tight pants and white shoes.


Fifteen years ago yesterday, I witnessed Newfoundland and Labrador’s greatest sporting achievement unfold in Italy. Fifteen years. Unimaginable.


Despite the two losses, as the playoffs grew nearer, Gushue and Co. were seeing good signs. First and foremost, Nichols looked like he was regaining his all-world form after marginal play early on.

During one practice session on the rink adjacent to the Palaghiaccio, Nichols threw runback after runback — about eight straight, Gushue said — all right on the money.

“When he’s shooting like that, we’re going to win a lot of games,” commented the skip.

And win they did.

The Canadians finished up the round robin by beating New Zealand, then Fenson and the Americans. They then reprised their victory over the U.S. in the semifinal round, setting up the gold-medal final against Finland.

On Feb. 24, 2006, the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, Danny Williams, closed schools so the kids could watch a potential historical moment unfold.

Hundreds (thousands?) more took a day off work to watch what could be a Paul Henderson moment at The Palaghiaccio, which was, as we say in Newfoundland, “blocked” for the men’s championship game.


Shortly before receiving their gold medals, Mike Adam (from left), Jamie Korab, Russ Howard, Mark Nichols and Brad Gushue were presented with flowers, an Olympic tradition. — Canadian Olympic Association photo
Shortly before receiving their gold medals, Mike Adam (from left), Jamie Korab, Russ Howard, Mark Nichols and Brad Gushue were presented with flowers, an Olympic tradition. — Canadian Olympic Association photo


While Canada had been gaining momentum, Finland was on a roll itself with six straight victories. And holding first-end hammer, Uusipaavalniemi, the Finnish alphabet, took a 2-0 lead.

But Gushue responded with two of his own in the second, then stole singles in the third and fourth ends.

After Finland got one point in the fifth, the Canadians came up with a monstrous sixth end, keyed by Nichols, who would end up curling 97 per cent in the game.

After a perfect long-raise double-takeout by Nichols, Uusipaavalniemi wrecked on guards on both of his shots. That left Gushue, with last shot, staring at six of his yellow stones counting.  

“My heart started absolutely pounding,” Gushue said at the time. “I looked around and did the math. We’re one up (4-3) and we get six, and now we’re seven up and there’s no way we’re losing.”

Aside from a buzz in the arena, the rink was surprisingly silent, as if fans were trying to figure if what they were seeing was real or imagined.

Gushue was heavy on his draw for seven (when was the last time that was heard in the Olympic Games?). But it didn’t matter.

On press row, I asked Perkins, seated next to me, “Do you see six rocks out there?”

Confirmed.

They played two more ends, but Gushue was right — the game had already been decided.



Gushue was crying post-game, on the phone with his mother, who was back in St. John’s. 

“Hopefully, people won’t call me too much of a sook when I get home,” he said.

Howard, always good for a quote, was holding court with the media. Nichols, in usual Nichols fashion, was subdued, though not overlooked by teammates. 

“This is a game that puts him on the map,” Korab said.

“At the beginning of the week," Nichols said, “I was just saying, ‘Hang in there guys. I’ll start making shots. I was lucky to do it in the two biggest games of our lives.”

Robin Short is The Telegram's Sports Editor. 


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