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Road to the Olympic Games: The Rock's Golden Boy heads for home

Hosted by veteran broadcasters Scott Russell and Andi Petrillo, Road to the Olympic Games chronicles athletes' journeys on and off the field of play. Here's what to look for on this weekend's show on CBC Television and CBCSports.ca.

What was it the American novelist of the 1930's, Thomas Wolfe, wrote?

"You can't go home again."

Olympic curling champion Brad Gushue of St. John's is counting on that being anything but the truth. 

It's in his hometown where he'll have his best chance to qualify for a shot at another Olympic gold medal when the Games open in Pyeongchang, South Korea in less than 400 days.

The Brier, the national men's curling championship, the one thing Gushue has never won, will be held in his barn at Mile One Centre at the start of the Trans-Canada Highway in March.

If he wins he'll get the opportunity to go to a trial by fire this coming December in Ottawa and emerge as the favourite to repeat the gold-medal performance he fashioned in Turin, Italy in 2006.

To use one old cliché, Gushue is between a rock and a hard place.

But at least he has a chance.


Gushue celebrates his historic gold medal with skip Russ Howard in 2006. (Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images)

Gushue is a star in what has long been the Canadian sports pastime. But curling has evolved from an Olympic curiosity into one of the fastest growing team games played on international ice.  And the competition is becoming fierce. 

Legions of good teams comprised of players from the western Canadian heartland and populous Ontario are vying for the chance to be Olympic champions.  And while Canadian men are always the favourites at the Games, the Europeans and Asians are threatening that long held superiority with each passing day. 

Gushue comes from an unlikely place for an Olympic champion, but he has built a remarkable career for the most part playing alongside teammates who live and work in his own backyard.

And he's no one-hit wonder. 

Gushue won the Canadian junior title as an alternate for John Morris of Ontario in 1998. Then three years later he skipped his own rink to the national junior championship and then the world crown in Ogden, Utah when the tournament served as the Olympic test event for the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

Along the way there was that Olympic gold medal, (the first and only by a native of Newfoundland and Labrador), six Grand Slam wins and 13 appearances at the Brier.  Twice he's been the runner-up and on another occasion he finished third.

Favoured son

For more than 15 years, Gushue has been Newfoundland and Labrador's golden boy and he's earned favoured son status at home.

"He's a great young man," said Bob Cole, the Hall of Fame hockey broadcaster over the phone from his home in St. John's. Cole himself skipped Newfoundland and Labrador at two Briers as well as the Canadian mixed championships.

"I was overwhelmed with how this youngster could throw a curling rock. He's become one of the best in the world and he'll have that hanging on his door forever, as he well should."     

Newfoundland and Labrador has produced only one Brier champion in history — Jack MacDuff in 1976. Only once since its beginning in 1927 has the national men's championship been played in the province and that was way back in 1972.

So Gushue will likely have the opportunity — if he emerges from the Newfoundland and Labrador playdowns — to perform in front of a packed house and relive the glory which saw every school in the province shut down by government decree so that students could watch him win the Olympic title in Italy 11 years ago.

"When you grow up in a small fishing town on an island in the middle of the ocean, it's easy to feel like you could never make it on the mainland in sports, music, business, or anything else when the moon rises over the sea," reckoned Alan Doyle of the renowned band, Great Big Sea. 

Doyle and his group have sold more records while gaining more international acclaim than any musicians in the history of the province.

He knows what Gushue means to the place.

CUR Brier 20160313

Despite all his success on the rink, a Brier title has eluded Gushue. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

"When Brad and his team brought home gold for Newfoundland and Canada too, it meant a lot to a lot of people from all over the country," Doyle said.  "But for most of us on that island, in the middle of the ocean, it meant one thing.  It simply and most definitely meant that anything is possible."

Gushue is battling back after serious injuries involving concussion and a bad hip which have kept him off the ice in the early going of this critical season.  But he's still ranked near the top and as the Brier approaches, he'll be expected to do great things in front of what is assuredly going to be an unapologetically partisan crowd at the rink in St. John's.

This is the lot a local hero must live with.

"Brad's been responsible for so much attention being brought to curling because of that gold medal in Italy," Cole said.  "The stadium will be sold out and it'll be noisy and you can bet your bottom dollar that the roof will come off when he makes a great shot. Brad will be responsible for that too."

Who said you can't go home again?

I wager Brad Gushue is champing at the bit.

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