WYMAN AND SIMMONS IN PYEONGCHANG
Counter to what esteemed colleague Steve Simmons says, mixed doubles is an exciting twist to the sport — and those gold medals were well-earned
GANGNEUNG — As I was riding the bus to the Olympic curling venue for the seventh morning in a row on Wednesday, I was wondering just how much of an effect the just-completed 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, threehour long, methodical chess match of a game that is traditional curling. Mixed doubles has action and games can change on a heartbeat.
How would the traditional games seem by comparison? Well, to be blunt, they seem much slower, longer and more methodical, as expected.
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 ever Olympic gold medal in the discipline on Tuesday night.
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 Postmedia colleague, Steve Simmons, was not 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 that 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 in Portage La Prairie 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 that 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-ever gold for long-time men’s contender Patrick Chan — was nothing to be celebrated.
However, the backlash, he reports, came almost entirely from the curling world. He had 200 emails and counting by Wednesday morning and 95% were 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 past few years — though not together — and reaped the benefits of playing in an extremely gruelling Olympic trials before heading for Pyeongchang.
Along the way they got assists from the Reid Carruthers/joanne Courntey team and the Marliese Kasner/ Dustin Kalthoff team. Those two teams were under the gun at the 2016 and 2017 world mixed doubles championships to finish high enough just to qualify Canada for the Olympics.
They both had to finish at least fifth, in a new discipline, playing against teams with much more experience.
Kasner and Kalthoff finished fifth in 2016 and Courntey and Carruthers clinched the Olympic berth for Canada with a silver medal at the 2017 world championship.
There have now been 10 mixed doubles world championships and the sport has exploded in Europe and 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 embroiled in a game that scoreless through three ends, was 1-1 at the fifth-end break and was looking like the kind of tight, clean, low-scoring game traditional curling is famous for.
I miss mixed doubles already.
Canada’s Kaitlyn Lawes warms up before she and partner John Morris defeated Switzerland to win the gold in mixed doubles curling yesterday.