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Bernard beats Kleibrink in Tim Hortons Canadian Curling Trials final

It boiled down to a collision of two skips from the same city whose teams have been bashing heads for close to two decades.

And this was different. It wasn’t a club game, it wasn’t a provincial championship final — and there have been a few of those — it wasn’t even for the national championship.

This was to be adorned with the Team Canada togs in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games curling tournament at Vancouver in February.

One had represented Canada in the last Olympics. One really hadn’t won a major curling title of any description.

And the winner was . . . 43-year-old skip Cheryl Bernard, whose best previous success of account was a runner-up finish at the Canadian women’s championship in 1996, and her team of third Susan O’Connor, second Carolyn Darbyshire and lead Cori Bartel.

Bernard required a draw to the eight-foot circle for the victory in the final end against Trials defender Shannon Kleibrink with the score deadlocked at 6-6. The draw shot appeared be sliding heavy but ground to a halt in the back eight-foot, igniting pandemonium among the Bernard supporters.

“Don’t be heavy,” Bernard said with a laugh. “That’s what I was thinking. You just have more adrenalin going and I just tried to throw it and not think what this was for. I was a little worried but then it began to curl and I knew it would grab.

“It’s amazing. I don’t know what to say. My team was incredible. They did everything they needed to, and they kept calm.”

She admitted this win was a long time coming.

“We’ve lost a lot of heartbreakers over the years and all that was for this,” she said. “And that’s good. Whatever it did, all the losses were worth this win. All those years. I’ve got a lot of them. Am I going to be the oldest Olympian?”

Probably not, but that brings up another issue.

“What about wearing the Canada crest?” she repeated the question. “You think it will ever come off?

“We’ll have a lot to adjust to but we’ll talk to a lot of people who know and we’ll have incredible support. It’ll be a different perspective going into this. I’m sure we’ll get prepared the way we need to get prepared. It’s just one team they (the support group) be focusing on.”

The early ends of the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings final were mundane, featuring numerous miscues.

“But I thought we both had a good second half,” said Kleibrink. “I missed a couple of shots and maybe they could have been the difference. Sure we’re disappointed but they were the best team all week, they deserve this.  You aren’t always going to win. You can’t be too sad.”

Kleibrink was playing in her third Trials final and losing her second one.

Bernard stuck on a hit attempting to blank the first end during which there never was more than one rock in play, then stole a second-end single when Kleibrink twice was unsuccessful trying to get at a hidden enemy stone in the four-foot.

In a rather strange third end, Kleibrink was up-weight on a hit to keep two counters divided on either side of the rings. Bernard then ignored a chance to partially bury her last one and apply some pressure to her enemy. Instead, she took a less-than-aggressive approach and killed Kleibrink’s shooter, sitting third, leaving Kleibrink a routine draw for two.

But Kleibrink tossed it into the back ring and settled for one.  Bernard regained her two-point edge in the fourth with an open hit for a single. She wrecked with her last rock of the fifth, leaving Kleibrink a repeat of her first shot, a draw through a port to the four-foot, but Kleibrink’s rock again sailed heavy and the defender settled for another single.

In the sixth, with Kleibrink counting three, Bernard hit one of them and rolled to count by an inch. But, in the seventh, with Kleibrink sitting two behind a corner guard, Bernard’s last rock flopped into the open on an attempted layup and Kleibrink executed the open hit for a go-ahead three.

Bernard bounced right back in front with a deuce in the eighth. This time it was Kleibrink who left her first rock in the open. Bernard rolled behind cover forcing Kleibrink to execute a half-rock double-raise takeout with her last. But Kleibrink’s rock remained open through a port and Bernard negotiated it with her last stone and remained on the takeout.

Bernard played two precise layups behind a corner guard to force Kleibrink to draw the four-foot for a tying point in the ninth end, leaving Bernard in control of the home end.

Kleibrink had the necessary cover set up there until third Amy Nixon’s last-rock attempt to bury rubbed one of the guards, enabling Bernard to open up the front.

“That rock of Amy’s really curled,” said Kleibrink. “I don’t know if it grabbed but I thought she threw it well. We’d have been in good shape if we’d managed to get that rock in there.”

It was a juicy plumb the Bernard team was left to contemplate. The victory included $180,000 over a 30-month period from Sport Canada as A-carded athletes and a whopping $50,000 from the Trials net profit to help defray Olympic-related costs.

Both finalists earlier received $40,000 each from Own the Podium 2010.