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The Eh Game

Canadian Paralympic curling team is decorated, but comes with some controversy

Don Landry
Eh Game

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Members of the Canadian Paralympic curling team from left to right: Jim Armstrong, Dennis Thiessen, Sonja Gaudet …

They know the venue. They know the ice. They've scored a gold medal there already. They've done it before. They'll be favoured to do it again. Canada's Paralympic curling team is a group that's weighed down with gold. The man who leads them on ice - six time Brier participant Jim Armstrong - also carries the weight of some extra baggage. The baggage of a suspension (appealed) as well as a conviction (with a guilty plea).

The team that won the World Wheelchair Curling Championship earlier this year will be the squad that represents Canada at the 2014 Paralympic Games, it was announced on Friday. They may have a psychological edge over other Paralympians in that The Games will be contested at the very same venue - The Ice Cube Curling Centre - where they were crowned champs last February.

Armstrong, Sonja Gaudet, Dennis Thiessen and Ina Forrest (with alternate Mark Ideson) will try to follow up that world championship with Sochi gold and for most of them, that would also mean a Paralympic repeat. Armstrong, Forrest and Gaudet were on the rink that took gold, in Vancouver four years ago. Thiessen and Ideson will make their paralympic debuts in Russia.

There is no wheelchair curler on the planet that is more decorated than Gaudet. Inducted into the Canadian Curling Hall Of Fame this year, she has won three world championships and two Paralympic gold medals. She ought to be the focus of this team but her sterling reputation won't get the widespread attention that her skip's troubles will.

Armstrong is also a curling hall of famer who led the team to gold in 2010. He's also pleaded guilty of trafficking counterfeit drugs and has once been suspended for testing positive for a banned substance. He claimed the doping was of the accidental variety.

It was in October of 2010 that Armstrong pleaded guilty - to selling counterfeit erectile-disfunction drugs - in a Seattle, Washington, court. In February of 2011, he was fined $30,000.00 while his son, Gregory, was sentenced to a year in prison, in connection with the case.

A year later, Jim Armstrong tested positive for a drug called Tamoxifen, which some athletes have reportedly used to mask the effects of taking steroids. However, it's also prescribed for breast cancer patients. Armstrong's wife, Carleen, succumbed to breast cancer in 2009. He argued that some of his wife's leftover prescriptions got mixed in with his, leading to accidental doping.

The World Curling Federation didn't really buy it, although they suspended Armstrong for just 18 months as opposed to the standard two years. He appealed the decision, to the Court of Arbitration For Sport, in June of 2012 and won a reduction in the penalty, to 6 months.

Al Cameron, reporting for the Calgary Herald at the time, quoted from the CAS decision:

"The WCF Panel did not properly exercise its discretion” in assessing the 18-month penalty, noting the accidental nature of the offence and the obvious lack of benefits to Armstrong (quite the opposite, actually; it would do more harm than good) from ingesting the Tamoxifen.

The CAS decision allowed Armstrong to rejoin the national program and to skip Canada to the 2013 World Championship.

That Armstrong's past troubles would dog him and the team through the Games of Sochi is doubtful. They've posed no obvious problems since he rejoined the program and as mentioned, he skipped the rink to gold at this year's World Championship. Considering he's been selected to represent Canada next March, it seems it's all water under the bridge, internally at least.

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