When the medals for curling are handed out in Vancouver, it will mark the start of the end for Ray Turnbull. The gregarious Winnipegger is in his last season of calling rocks for TSN, and the Olympic Games will be a fitting departure for a man who has been involved in the roaring game for more than half a century, the last 25 years behind the microphone.
Turnbull will finish up with the Canadian and world championships before bidding adieu.
"Like John Madden said when he retired from broadcasting football, it's time," Turnbull said last week as he was heading to Toronto to call the action at the Casino Rama TSN Skins Game.
"I'll miss it for sure, but it's time to do other things and time for another voice to take over."
Several years ago, when talk of retirement was first uttered, TSN asked Turnbull to stay on through the Olympics and he agreed, seeing it as a good way to make his exit. The network has used 2006 gold medalist Russ Howard on some broadcasts and it's expected he'll take over for Turnbull full-time next year.
Long before he was the game's most recognized broadcaster, Turnbull was a tremendous curler in his own right. At 17, he was part of a high-school-aged Manitoba rink skipped by Terry Braunstein that shocked curling by first winning its provincial crown and then losing a playoff to Matt Baldwin in the final of the Brier. The team returned in 1965 to win it all.
After that win, Turnbull became a prominent curling instructor, travelling across Canada and into Europe to teach the game. His influence in countries such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark is still felt today with many top players using what became known as the Turnbull Trunk Lift Delivery, a style he devised.
But it is as an announcer that the 70-year-old has truly made his mark in the game, although that career got off to an unusual start. For his first broadcast, Turnbull was paired with former CBCer Don Chevrier to call the action from the 1985 Canadian mixed championship. Standing on the ice for what he thought was the live intro, he listened to Chevrier talk about the competition before asking him if he thought the event would be exciting. Except Chevrier laced the final sentence with some swear words substituting as adjectives.
"I didn't know what to do," Turnbull recalled. "I just stood there with my jaw on the ice until Chevy and the crew broke out in laughter. We were still five minutes from air. They got the rookie."
Since that first broadcast, Turnbull has travelled the world, calling the shots from men's, women's and world championships. He's become almost iconic in the curling community, a bigger celebrity than most of the players he covers. In 1998 he was even flown to New York to appear on The Late Show with David Letterman, where he served as a curling broadcaster in a sketch the comedian was taping.
"He has an amazing passion for the game," said Vic Rauter, who has served as Turnbull's broadcast partner since 1985. "He wears it on his sleeve and sometimes it gets him into trouble but he just loves the game."
Rauter paired up with Turnbull in the second year of TSN's curling coverage and in 1989 they were joined by Linda Moore. The team has been intact since.
This will be the second Olympics for Turnbull. In 1998, he worked for CBS and TNT as the lone curling reporter. At first his reports aired sparingly, but as the Americans became fascinated with the sport, his contributions grew to the point where The New York Times called him one of the top three reporters at the Games.
This time around, he'll be in his familiar position of diagramming the possibilities and explaining the shots for the viewers across Canada.
"I'm really looking forward to it," he said. "The game is so exciting now and I think we'll see some tremendous curling in Vancouver."
"This, for him, wraps it all up perfectly," Rauter said. "To go out calling the Olympics in Canada is a perfect ending for him."
Although he loves the game and the job, the work has been tough on Turnbull. The travel is extensive and the hours long. He'll leave Jan. 29 to cover the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and not return home until late March.
"There's a lot of other stuff I'd like to do," he admitted, citing a daughter and grandchildren in New Zealand he plans to visit. "But I'll keep watching on television, for sure."
For at least the remainder of this season, so will Canadian curling fans.