Local curlers in Newfoundland and Labrador were on the edge of their seats during the final of Canada's Olympic curling trials Sunday, and say Brad Gushue's win is another leap forward in an illustrious career.
Gushue is headed to the Olympic Games in February for the second time following a thrilling 4-3 victory over the Northern Ontario team skipped by Brad Jacobs.
Gushue previously represented Canada at the 2006 Games along with teammate Mark Nichols, defeating Finland to win the gold medal in one of Newfoundland and Labrador's most iconic sporting moments.
Jamie Korab was part of that team alongside Gushue, Nichols, Russ Howard and Mike Adam, and was glued to the television Sunday night during the final match.
"It was honestly a roller coaster," Korab said Monday.
"I checked my Fitbit monitor, and my heart rate got up to 100 beats a minute at times. You're almost living and dying on every shot…But you could see the emotion from Brad and Mark and the boys when they won."
Korab said watching the team also brought back memories of their win at the 2005 Olympic Trials in Halifax and the whirlwind that came after.
"Just that emotion and seeing all that…There was a few things that popped up in my head about when we won and what we did right after," he said.
"You put so much effort into it, and only one team goes. And it's only every four years. I'm just ecstatic for them."
Gold medal showed success was possible for N.L. athletes
Greg Smith was 10-years-old when Gushue and his team won Olympic Gold. He remembers watching the match with his parents and — as someone who had only recently started in curling — the impact it had on his life.
"I think the biggest thing for any athlete, whether they were in curling or not…is they realized that they could do it too, and that anything was possible being from Newfoundland and Labrador. We've had some real big curling moments, but that certainly is number one," Smith said.
Representing the province at the Brier in 2021, Smith said he also remembers the surge in curling popularity following the win. He said it helped him grow as a curler, and also lit a fire underneath him to want to get better.
"It was a moment that made me realize once I get to a certain age, I was 10 at the time, that [if I] really put some work in, make sure you travel, do some events and you too could be at a higher level of curling," Smith said.
A second trip to the Olympics will be a long time coming for Gushue, suiting up for Canada 16 years after his first Olympics in Italy.
Both Smith and Korab believe the experience plays into the team being the favourite to win Gold, fuelled by a powerful work ethic, experience on curling's biggest stage and the skills each team member brings.
"In that 10 years Brad was good, but it's the last four years that he's been no question the best team in the world," Korab said.
"What Mark brings to the team with his shot-making and how he kind of calms Brad down. What Brett brings, he's one of the best sweepers in the world…You've got Geoff Walker. Quiet, doesn't say a whole lot, but you know he's gonna put the rock almost every time exactly where it got to go."
"They were really so sharp the whole week, so sharp the whole season. I really think they have a great chance of bringing home Gold in Beijing," Smith added.