KITCHENER, Ont. - The Olympic curling dream is still alive for the two dozen rinks set to compete at this week's Capital One Road to the Roar competition.
However, the road to the Sochi Games remains a long one. Only four teams will advance to the final qualification stage and it won't be easy to get there given the quality of competition at the Nov. 5-10 tournament.
Champions from every major level will be in the field for the triple-knockout event at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium Complex. Gold medallists from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and the 2006 Turin Games are on hand along with former world champions and the reigning Tim Hortons Brier champ.
The goal is to reach next month's Canadian Olympic curling trials in Winnipeg, an event that already has 12 of the 16 available spots booked. The four remaining openings — two for the men and two for the women — will be filled by the end of play Sunday.
"It is a unique event — 12 teams for two spots," national champion Brad Jacobs said of the men's draw in a recent interview. "If you don't bring your 'A' game (this) week, forget about your Olympic dreams. Really that's what it comes down to."
Jacobs guided his Northern Ontario rink to victory at the Brier this year and followed it up with a silver medal at the world championships. He'll be challenged this week by seasoned veterans like 2010 Olympic champion John Morris, 2006 Olympic champion Brad Gushue of St. John's, N.L., and 2006 world silver medallist Jean-Michel Menard of St-Romuald, Que.
Morris, who teamed with skip Kevin Martin to win a world title in 2008 and Olympic gold in Vancouver, split from Martin's rink last spring. He later joined Jim Cotter's Kelowna, B.C., team and will handle skip duties while Cotter throws last stones.
The women's field also boasts plenty of star power.
There is 2007 world champion Kelly Scott of Kelowna, 2010 Olympic silver medallist Cheryl Bernard and 2006 Olympic bronze medallist Shannon Kleibrink, both of Calgary.
"The field in Canada is amazing and it's really deep," Bernard said. "I think any team at the pre-trials or trials could represent our country well at the Olympics.
"So that being said, I'm proud that we have that depth of field but it also makes it a lot of work for all the teams to be able to rise to the top."
The women's field is rounded out by Barb Spencer of Winnipeg, Tracy Horgan of Sudbury, Ont., Krista McCarville of Thunder Bay, Ont., Crystal Webster of Calgary, Val Sweeting of Edmonton, Amber Holland of Regina, Laura Crocker of Edmonton, Renee Sonnenberg of Grande Prairie, Alta., and Cathy Auld of Mississauga, Ont.
Other men's rinks include Toronto skips Mark Kean and Greg Balsdon, Ottawa's Bryan Cochrane, Jake Higgs of Glencoe, Ont., Steve Laycock of Saskatoon, Rob Fowler of Brandon, Man., Rob Rumfeldt of Guelph, Ont., and Joe Frans of Bradford, Ont.
The Olympic curling trials — the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings — begin Dec. 1 in Winnipeg.
The men's skips that have already qualified include Kevin Martin and Kevin Koe, both from Edmonton, Glenn Howard of Coldwater, Ont., John Epping of Toronto and Mike McEwen and Jeff Stoughton, both from Winnipeg.
Edmonton's Heather Nedohin, Saskatoon's Stefanie Lawton, Sherry Middaugh of Coldwater, Ont., Ottawa's Rachel Homan of Ottawa and Jennifer Jones and Chelsea Carey, both from Winnipeg, have already qualified on the women's side.