CANADIANS HAVE SURPRISED WITH DOMINANCE ON RINK
Lawes and Morris have come a long way in a short period of time to contend for gold
There was a time during the Canadian Olympic mixed doubles curling trials in January when it looked like things were not going to work out for Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris.
A newly formed team — Lawes was replacing Olympian Rachel Homan on the squad — they scuffled to a 2-3 record at the trials in Portage la Prairie, Man.
In their next game, they had to steal a point in an extra end just to beat Chelsea Carey and Colin Hodgson 8-7 and stay alive in the competition.
Since then, the pair has rolled off 16 wins in 18 games, including one over Brad Gushue and Val Sweeting to win the trials and another on Monday morning over Norway in the semifinal of the Olympic mixed doubles curling tournament.
As unlikely as it seems, this team that has played just 21 games together is now a win away from a gold medal. Canada will play Switzerland in the gold medal game Tuesday at Gangneung Curling Centre (6:05 a.m. ET in Canada). Switzerland beat Olympic athletes from Russia 7-5 in Monday’s second semifinal.
There were some who thought the Canadians would never be able to pull this off. Sure, they are exceptional curlers, but they didn’t have the mixed-doubles experience other teams around the world have. The three other playoff teams here are mixeddoubles specialists.
Norway’s Kristin Skaslien and Magnus Nedregotten were playing their 58th game of the season including 42 wins, double the number of games the Canadians had even played, let alone won.
The other semifinalists have similar records. Russia (Anastasia Bryzgalova and Aleksandr Krushelnitckii) had played 62 games this season and won 48, while the Swiss pair of Jenny Perrett and Martin Rios — the defending world champions — played 62 games and won 42.
The bottom line is Lawes and Morris have done something special against teams that play the game full time. With the Canadian trials being their only event, they came into the Olympic tournament ranked low, but simply went out and made shots, allowing them to overcome their lack of experience.
What this shows is that Curling Canada, and especially national team coach Jeff Stoughton, came up with an excellent plan for producing an Olympic contender in a new curling discipline.
While very few Canadians put the kind of time into mixed doubles that many European teams do, the gruelling Olympic trials last month served as a crash course. Lawes and Morris had to get past 18 teams. They played eight round-robin games and five playoff games. They had to beat many of the best curlers Canada and the world have to offer.
Lawes and Morris came into the Olympics battle-tested. They had all the skills and the curling experience, both being Olympic gold medallists already, and just needed some time to jell. Their combination of shot-calling ability, shooting and athleticism, formed entirely in the traditional four-person game, has been simply too much for the rest of the field so far.
It’s a testament to the forethought displayed by Curling Canada in order to get this right.
“That was huge, those trials,” Morris said. “Having that longer week and that format there really helped us. We started 2-3 there and had our backs against the wall and we adapted and overcame and learned how to play well together. We feel great together right now.”
Stoughton points out that while Morris and Lawes haven’t curled much together, they both have plenty of mixed doubles games under their belts with other partners.
“John played a ton of games on our mixed doubles circuit and so did Kaitlyn,” Stoughton said. “They never missed an event so they certainly got in enough games to know what they’re doing out there. Together was a different story but there’s a ton of experience with these guys.”
While mixed doubles appears to be a hit in the curling world — and it will certainly grow in Canada now that it has produced an Olympic medal — the International Olympic Committee will still review it after this event.
Lawes was asked what her message to the IOC would be after Monday’s semifinal.
“Please keep it. To have another medal for curling is amazing and mixed doubles is so popular internationally. The fact that we can help grow the sport is huge.
“Canada hasn’t had a ton of success at mixed doubles, so we want to help start a new generation of curlers and show them how much fun the sport is. If we can bring home a medal to share that with everyone, that will be pretty special.”
Personally, I think this game is great. It’s fast-paced, requires a great deal of athleticism and the curlers have to think on their feet.
To me, the IOC has an easy decision on its hands. A no-brainer.