Far from a sham, it could revo­lu­tion­ize the sport

Make no mis­take: mixed dou­bles curl­ing is not only here to stay, it’s get­ting big­ger

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - WINTER OLYMPICS - TED WY­MAN In Gangneung twyman@post­media.com @Ted_Wy­man

As I was rid­ing the bus to the Olympic curl­ing venue for the sev­enth morn­ing in a row on Wed­nes­day, I was won­der­ing how much of an ef­fect the just­com­pleted mixed dou­bles event would have on my per­cep­tion of the tra­di­tional game.

The de­but of mixed dou­bles in­tro­duced a large part of the world to a much faster, shorter, higher-scor­ing, more ath­letic ver­sion of curl­ing.

Look away at your own peril — mixed dou­bles is not the some­times plod­ding, three-hour long, me­thod­i­cal chess match of a game that is tra­di­tional curl­ing. Mixed dou­bles has ac­tion and games can change in a heart­beat.

How would the tra­di­tional games seem by com­par­i­son? Well, to be blunt, they seem much slower, longer and more me­thod­i­cal, as ex­pected. This is noth­ing against the tra­di­tional game. I have been a fan of the strat­egy, shot­mak­ing and un­der-ap­pre­ci­ated ath­leti­cism for decades, but it can al­ways be better.

I say this to draw at­ten­tion to the fact that mixed dou­bles curl­ing could help revo­lu­tion­ize the en­tire sport. How long will it be be­fore tra­di­tional curl­ing adopts some of the rules that make mixed dou­bles more ex­cit­ing — things like eight-end games, no hit­ting the first four or five rocks of an end and giv­ing up the ham­mer on blank ends.

Guar­an­teed, those changes would in­crease scor­ing and ex­cite­ment in tra­di­tional curl­ing. Don’t be sur­prised to see it hap­pen be­fore the next Olympic Win­ter Games in Bei­jing in 2022.

And don’t be sur­prised to see mixed dou­bles ex­plode over the next qua­dren­nial, es­pe­cially in Canada after Kait­lyn Lawes and John Mor­ris won the first Olympic gold in the dis­ci­pline.

Hey, Mr. T likes it. He couldn’t stop tweet­ing about it dur­ing the mixed dou­bles com­pe­ti­tion. Surely the game gained plenty of new fans across the world as well.

My col­league, Steve Sim­mons, wasn’t one of them. Sim­mons said in his col­umn that mixed dou­bles curl­ing is a sham and doesn’t be­long on the big stage.

The think­ing was that Canada won a gold medal de­spite the fact the team of Lawes and Mor­ris was newly formed and rarely even prac­tised to­gether be­fore em­bark­ing on their quest at the Cana­dian Olympic mixed dou­bles curl­ing tri­als last month.

“This is a made-up Olympic event, added ba­si­cally be­cause curl­ing draws tele­vi­sion num­bers and this gives TV an­other sport that fills plenty of hours for broad­cast­ers around the world,” Sim­mons wrote.

He’s not wrong on that front, but does that make the ac­com­plish­ment of Lawes and Mor­ris any less mean­ing­ful? Ab­so­lutely not.

Does it change the fact mixed dou­bles is a great game? So what if it’s con­trived? So what if it’s mess­ing with all the rules? It’s good and it’s fun and Cana­di­ans are damn good at it.

To be fair, Sim­mons also wrote that the gold medal won by Canada in team fig­ure skat­ing — a first gold for long­time men’s con­tender Pa­trick Chan — was noth­ing to be cel­e­brated.

How­ever, the back­lash — Sim­mons re­ports — came al­most en­tirely from the curl­ing world. He had 200 emails by Wed­nes­day morn­ing, 95 per cent from irate curl­ing fans.

To me, those fans have a point. Canada’s gold-medal win was the cul­mi­na­tion of sev­eral years of hard work by na­tional mixed dou­bles coach Jeff Stoughton, who had to throw to­gether an Olympic pro­gram in a hurry. He had to or­ga­nize mixed dou­bles tour­na­ments, na­tional cham­pi­onships, train­ing pro­grams, get teams to world cham­pi­onships.

He did a re­mark­able job and Lawes and Mor­ris em­braced the game early on, played it reg­u­larly over the last few years — though not to­gether — and reaped the ben­e­fits of play­ing in a gru­elling Olympic tri­als.

Along the way, they got as­sists from the Reid Car­ruthers/ Joanne Court­ney team and the Mar­liese Kas­ner/Dustin Kalthoff team. Those two teams had to fin­ish at least fifth at the 2016 and 2017 world mixed dou­bles cham­pi­onships for Canada to qual­ify for the Olympics.

Kas­ner and Kalthoff fin­ished fifth in 2016 and Court­ney and Car­ruthers clinched the Olympic berth for Canada with a sil­ver medal at the 2017 worlds.

There have been 10 mixed dou­bles world cham­pi­onships and the sport has ex­ploded around the world, with more new mixed dou­bles play­ers en­ter­ing the game than tra­di­tional play­ers.

It could be the same in Canada over the next four years. I’d sug­gest it prob­a­bly will be.

As I wrote this col­umn, Canada’s Kevin Koe and Italy’s Joel Re­tor­naz were tied 1-1 at the fifthend break. It was look­ing like the kind of tight, low-scor­ing game tra­di­tional curl­ing is fa­mous for.

I miss mixed dou­bles al­ready.

So what if it’s con­trived? So what if it’s mess­ing with all the rules? It’s good and it’s fun and Cana­di­ans are damn good at it.

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