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Howard in form at 54, pushing for Brier return with eye on Olympic qualifying

Howard looking to peak at right time

COBOURG, Ont. — When Glenn Howard made his first appearance at the Ontario curling championship, Pierre Trudeau was prime minister, McDonald’s was about to introduce the McNugget, and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” album ruled the charts.

A lot has changed in the three-plus decades since, but Howard’s drive to be the best hasn’t waned.  

The four-time world champion is still going strong at 54. Howard is trying to get back to the Tim Hortons Brier and also has his eye on trying to qualify for the Olympic Trials later this year.

“The fire is still there,” said teammate Richard Hart. “He’s as competitive as ever.”

Howard, Hart, second David Mathers and lead Scott Howard were tied for second place behind John Epping entering the final two draws of round-robin competition Friday at the Cobourg Community Centre. The top four teams in the 10-team Ontario Tankard field will advance to the Page playoffs on Saturday.

The winner of Sunday’s final will earn a berth in the national playdowns next month in St. John’s.

“I really enjoy it. I like to lace up the shoes,” said Howard, who’s from Penetanguishene, Ont. “I’m 54 and I have just as much desire to win this as I did when it was my first one at (20) years old back in 1983. It’s pretty cool. I’m almost surprised at myself to still have that desire.” 

Howard’s ranking has slipped in recent months, due in part to a lighter schedule. The veteran skip feels his team is still curling well despite playing just six bonspiels over the first half of the season, leaving them fresh for what he hopes will be a big year ahead.

“We’ve done pretty well,” Howard said. “We’re winning lots of games. We didn’t really win any (titles) but the fact that we’re winning games is huge. That just means we’re beating most teams and we’re on the right track.”

It will probably take a Brier victory and world podium appearance for Howard to earn a direct spot into the Dec. 2-10 Olympic Trials in Ottawa. 

Reaching the event through the pre-trials qualifier â€” something 2014 Olympic champion Brad Jacobs did to reach the 2013 Trials — is the likelier scenario. The 2017 pre-trials event is set for Nov. 6-12 in Summerside, P.E.I. 

The only thing missing from Howard’s stacked resume is an Olympic appearance. The 2018 Pyeongchang Games would likely be his last opportunity to get there as a player.

His team is still finding its rhythm in its first season together as a foursome. With a void created due to Wayne Middaugh’s serious leg injury, Mathers came on board last spring while Hart, who won Olympic silver with Mike Harris in 1998, moved to the third position.

The changes gave the team some youth and sweeping power on the front end with loads of experience on the back end.

“It’s going to be a tough road, don’t get me wrong,” said Howard, who keeps himself in tip-top shape. “But I know we have the ability to beat any team on any given day. I’m 100 per cent convinced of that.

“Are we as consistent as the rest? No. But if you just keep getting to the right position, set yourself up, play that big game and you come out with (the win), it can be done.”

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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press