After winning gold in Turin in 2006, little did Brad Gushue know that it would take 16 long years to earn the opportunity to compete at the Winter Olympic Games for a second time.
Team Gushue suffered through three Olympic cycles of disappointment after taking gold in Italy, including a semi-final exit at the Canadian trials ahead of the 2018 PyeongChang Games.
“You feel like the world is at your fingertips,” said Gushue as he reminisced about his Olympic experience and expectations after winning gold in Italy.
“You think you are going to win multiple medals and go to multiple World Championships, but curling is a humbling game, it’s a tough sport.”
A 25-year-old Gushue skipped Team Canada to Olympic gold in 2006 in a dramatic final against Finland’s Markku Uusipaavalniemi – with one end particular proving memorable for the Newfoundland and Labrador native.
“It was one of those ends which snuck up on us,” said Gushue of the game’s sixth end. “It looked like we had pretty good control of the end where we were likely to score two. If things went really well, we might score a three.
“I remember not quite rolling far enough on my first draw and I gave Markku an out – if he made his last stone, I’d have had a tough shot for two.
“He touched the guard and bumped us in, then rolled out and all the rocks stopped. I had to get my fingers out and count each one that was in the rings – I was shocked when I saw six in there.”
Despite the dominant – Olympic winning – position of a guaranteed six-stone end, the final stone of that end is one that has brought him many years of gentle ribbing.
“The adrenaline for me really started to pump, I had an open draw for seven – I’d prepared so much to have a draw to win, not a draw for seven,” he laughed.
“I’ve been made fun of more than enough in my career for missing that one, so I’d like to take that and throw it somewhere in the ring so I wouldn’t get razzed so much about that.”
The journey back to the Olympics has been a tough one for Gushue – his rink failed to qualify for the Canadian Olympic trials in 2009 and 2013 and he says:
“We had a really good team in 2009, we were probably the third or fourth best team in the world. Not to get to the trials was a huge disappointment.
“Fast forward four years after that, we were certainly at a transition point in our careers. We had just formed the nucleus of the team we have now – Brett [Gallant] and Geoff [Walker] were pretty fresh out of juniors and we had Adam Casey as well – we just didn’t have the experience at that time.”
After those two failed attempts at returning to the Olympics, Gushue turned to an experienced former teammate to rejuvenate his current rink.
“When we didn’t qualify for the trials for 2014, experience was one thing I felt was missing. I felt at times I was a little lonely out there from that standpoint and I was the one who had to guide my teammates.
“When Mark Nichols was finishing up with Jeff Stoughton and he was looking at moving back to Newfoundland it was a natural fit. Bringing the experience, he and I had for such a long period of time gave me a bit more support.
“That move paid dividends right off the bat. I think a couple of events into the new rink we won a Grand Slam of Curling title and then we won another one later that year, so that was kind of the missing piece of the team we had formed back in 2011.”
Even with the addition of Nichols, Team Gushue fell at the semi-final stage of the 2017 Olympic trials to a red-hot Mike McEwan – just eight months after becoming World Champions.
“It’s not easy to get back, it’s probably, as far as sports go in Canada, is one of the toughest to represent Canada at the Olympics – right up there with ice hockey.”
After 16 long years, Gushue will return to Olympic ice in Beijing after a dominant display in the 2021 trials. After topping the round robin with a 7-1 record, Gushue defeated Team Jacobs 4-3 in a cagey final.
The difference between the two sides, a two-stone ninth end – the only multi-score end of the contest for either team.
“I’ve changed dramatically over the 16 years,” said Gushue of the journey he has been on since his gold in 2006, “I think 16 years ago I was a bit more instinctual, a little more fiery, impatient at times, you know intense.
“I think this time around I’m much steadier, calmer, and patient in how I play the game. I think that just comes with age, experience – you know we’ve been through a lot in 16 years and I kind of know what works for me and what doesn’t.
“I also have things in perspective, while playing at the Olympics is wonderful – and it’s certainly a privilege, you know it’s not the end of the world if you don’t win a medal, or if you do win one.
“That perspective I have is going to pay dividends, because it just takes a little bit of the edge off the pressure that all the teams are going to feel when they go to Beijing.”