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Days of smoking, drinking long gone at the Brier as curlers dream of Olympics


CALGARY - The sport of curling was once strongly associated with smoking and drinking, but to butcher the old Virginia Slims slogan, the Brier has come a long way, baby.
The men on the ice at the 2009 Tim Hortons Brier in Calgary are poster boys for health and fitness.
Yet many of them can still remember the days when curlers could smoke while they were throwing rocks and sweeping them.
"In 1992 and 1993 there was still smoking on the ice during the playdowns, so it hasn't been that long," said Alberta's Kevin Martin.
"Probably only about the last 10 years where it's really changed a lot."
Added Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton: "I can remember seeing pictures of Orest Meleschuk sliding out (of the hack) with a cigarette in his mouth. That was classic."
Pre-tournament favourites Kevin Martin of Alberta and Glenn Howard of Ontario remained atop the field at 5-0 on Monday with a pair of wins apiece.
Martin edged Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador 5-4 and Howard got by Saskatchewan's Joel Jordison 7-6 in the final draw of the day.
Manitoba's Stoughton was 4-1 after a pair of wins in earlier draws.
New Brunswick's Russ Howard was tied with Gushue at 3-2 following a 9-6 win over Northern Ontario.
B.C.'s Sean Geall, Quebec's Jean-Michel Menard, P.E.I.'s Rod MacDonald and Nova Scotia's Mark Dacey were all 2-3.
Jamie Koe of Yukon/Northwest Territories and Jordison were 1-4 and Northern Ontario's Mike Jakubo was winless in five games.
Glenn Howard faced his first defeat of the tournament Monday against Saskatchewan as he was down two points coming home with last-rock advantage.
The Ontario skip executed what he describes as "an angle raise in-off double" takeout with his last throw to score three for the win.
"And throw your arms in the air and run around like an idiot," he added.
The marquee matchup Tuesday morning is Glenn Howard versus brother Russ and nephew Steve, who plays second for New Brunswick.
The last Brier held in Calgary in 1980 was the first one in which curlers couldn't smoke on the ice. Not coincidentally, MacDonald Tobacco had ended its 50-year sponsorship of the national championship the previous year.
Curling kept its party atmosphere as both fans and curlers would head together to the famous, or infamous, Brier Patch after each draw.
While the fans still carry out that tradition, the men have toned down the socializing, at least until their team is eliminated from playoff contention at the end of the week.
"When I started, it was whichever team could sober up the fastest probably won," said Russ Howard, whose first of his 14 Brier appearances was in Calgary in 1980.
"Now the athletes are more like athletes. We didn't work at it physically or mentally like we do now."
Howard saw his sport move to a new level when he joined Gushue's young team and won an Olympic gold medal with them in 2006. The team had a nutritionist, a sports psychologist and more than one coach.
"They were eating broccoli for lunch," he said. "Between games, they're chomping on celery and running the stairs at Mile One (Stadium)."
Curling's introduction into the Olympics in 1998 accelerated the curlers' attention to diet, physical fitness and their overall lifestyle.
"I do remember guys going down the ice with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths as they were sweeping," Glenn Howard said. "It was bizarre. Thank God those days are gone.
"As soon as the Olympics became a full-fledged medal sport, people realized. It was maybe part of an image thing, that you've got to keep yourself in shape to be that much better than the next guy."
Alberta third John Morris rides a stationary bike before each game and the team works out at their hotel gym between draws to prevent lactic acid from building up in their muscles.
During the summer, Morris trains five or six days a week for two to three hours a day running, biking, interval training to simulate sweeping or strength straining.
"To be a strong curler and competitor, you have to have that athleticism," Morris said. "It keeps us sharp the whole event. That might make a minor difference, but that could be the one you need."

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