Homan team backed by Olympic veteran Cheryl Bernard in Pyeongchang
Skip Rachel Homan, from Ottawa, Ont. throws a rock during her Olympic 6-5 win over Team Carey in the 2017 Roar of the Rings Canadian Olympic Curling Trials in Ottawa on Sunday, December 10, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, February 13, 2018 12:43PM EST
PYEONGCHANG, Korea, Republic Of -- Eyebrows were raised when Rachel Homan asked Cheryl Bernard to be her alternate at the Winter Games, including Bernard's.
Instead of recruiting from the ranks of Canadian women competing in playdowns and on tour this winter, Homan's choice of the semi-retired Bernard as a spare player was unconventional.
But for Homan and her Ottawa team, the 51-year-old Bernard checked multiple boxes as the player they wanted advising them, and potentially playing with them in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
"It made so much sense for us to ask her," Homan said Tuesday after practice at the Gangneung Curling Centre.
A curling team's alternate is a strategist, caretaker of details and an emotional shoulder to lean on, in addition to being a substitute player in the event of illness or injury.
Bernard knows the pressure-packed environment of Olympic curling having skipped the home country to a silver medal at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
The Calgarian has called dozens of Homan games in her four years as a curling commentator on TSN.
Even though she retired from competitive curling at 48, Bernard continued to play once a week. When she got the invitation from Homan in December, Bernard began throwing rocks every day.
"I was really surprised, but a lot of thought went into it and there's something to not inviting someone you compete against," Bernard said. "I'm trying to pretend I'm a player at the Olympics and anticipate anything they want.
"I can do that because I remember the things that upset me, I remember the things that caused me anxiety, so I'm trying to be ahead of the game with them on all those things."
Homan, third Emma Miskew, second Joanne Courtney and lead Lisa Weagle out of the Ottawa Curling Club open the preliminary round of Olympic women's curling Thursday against host South Korea and Sweden.
Homan's regular alternate Cheryl Kreviazuk didn't meet Curling Canada's criteria to be their fifth player in Pyeongchang, which prompted the call to Bernard.
"She's a phenomenal line-caller. She knows a ton about judging, how rocks come down the ice, releases, throws," Homan explained.
"She's been in high-pressure situations. She experienced the highs and the lows of curling and what that can mean to you as a foursome."
Homan and company will attempt to defend the country's gold won by Jennifer Jones in 2014 when her Winnipeg team went undefeated en route to the title.
Bernard had the winning rock in her hand in an extra end in 2010. Her attempted double hit and stay for the win cleared just one Swedish stone, which gave up a steal of one and the win to Anette Norberg.
"I have zero regrets," Bernard said. "We laid it all out there, played great, lost a gold-medal final and that's sport. I've dealt with that pretty well.
"I hope that I can sort of give that to these girls, that no matter what they come away with, they're Olympians for the rest of their life."
Homan was a 20-year-old with Olympic dreams of her own when she watched Bernard's team battle in Vancouver.
"Gutted for her obviously, but also so proud of how they did," Homan recalled. "Some of her shots to get her to that gold-medal game were out of this world, so clutch in pressure situations."
Bernard's last competitive games were in 2016. She skipped the Jones team at a couple of World Curling Tour events after Jones gave birth to her second child.
It would take a dramatic illness or injury on the Homan team for Bernard to play in Pyeongchang. But even if she doesn't get in a game, she'll still get a second Olympic medal should Homan's rink make the podium.
"We hope that the four of us are able to play every game, but you never know what's going to happen at an event like this," Weagle said.
"Joanne and I didn't want to have to go call line or have Emma for last rock. We wanted someone who could fill in at any position and we would feel confident in them being able to do a good job. That was Cheryl for us."