It likely won’t go down as one of the greatest teams in Canadian curling or even the most successful. But when the final chapter is written on the Cheryl Bernard rink, it will likely earn a spot as one of the most popular.
A year after claiming a silver medal at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, Bernard confirmed this week that her squad of Susan O'Connor, Carolyn Darbyshire and Cori Morris would finish out this season and then part ways.
In many ways, this decision is all about women’s curling. The game isn’t lucrative enough to make it financially worthwhile for Bernard and her teammates to keep sweeping sheets of ice until their shot at the 2014 Olympics. And the time commitment necessary to remain an elite player means giving up things like, oh, having children, as some members of the rink apparently intend to do.
Bernard confirmed as much this week, when she spoke of wanting to go out on top and not dragging her team through to a fractured end where it was just going through the motions.
“I didn’t want it to be a like an old married couple where there’s no spark,” the Calgary skip said. “If we thought we could bottle and keep what we had for four more years, we might stay together. But I think we’re all in different places right now.”
Compare the situation to that of the other 2010 Olympic team, skipped by Kevin Martin. The four players on that rink have already agreed to stay together for another run at the next Olympics in Sochi, Russia. That Martin’s squad is well-backed by sponsors such as Uncle Ben’s and Pedigree dog food, and that he can earn four to five times as much on the World Curling Tour as the women can, makes the decision a little easier.
Bernard, who was arguably the highest-profile women’s curler in the world at the start of this season, had to resort to plastering her mug on billboards in Calgary to get any sort of financial support.
The men are pros; the women, participants.
One of the biggest factors for any woman is family – and it played a part in the Bernard team’s demise. (It’s what current Canadian champion Jennifer Jones refers to as “the timing issue.”)
Some women have managed to combine motherhood and curling. The late Sandra Schmirler famously nursed her newborn baby in between games while battling to win the 1997 Olympic trials. Others have played while pregnant, with mixed results.
“It’s a huge decision for women,” Bernard said. “Men don’t really have to think about it but for women, it’s just always there. Some women can time it and make it work and others just seem to lose it afterwards, so you never know.”
No one, of course, would fault anyone for choosing babies over brooms.
In the end, the Bernard rink’s story will be one of opportunities taken and lost.
As a foursome, they made it to a couple of Canadian championships, where they were somewhat short of spectacular (both times posting 6-5 records). They won events on the World Curling Tour, but never dominated the circuit. But when the Canadian Curling Trails took place in 2009, no team arrived better prepared mentally or physically for the toughest test in all of curling.
Perhaps unfairly, the final word on the squad will likely be about the two glorious chances to win gold that slipped through their fingers in the 10th and 11th ends of the final Olympic match.
A betting man would likely put a bob or two on Bernard returning to the game before too long. Her talent and competitive nature would make that lure almost too much.
For now, however, she’s more than content to spend that time focusing on her golf game.
NOTES Six teams have qualified for this year’s Tim Hortons Brier in London, Ont.: 2006 Olympic gold medalist Brad Gushue once again won Newfoundland and Labrador; Pat Simmons will wear Saskatchewan green; Nova Scotia will be represented by Shawn Adams; James Gratton won New Brunswick; Eddie MacKenzie captured PEI; and François Gagné took the Quebec title.
Special to The Globe and Mail