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

Ottawa Citizen - - WINTER OLYMPICS - TED WY­MAN Twyman@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/Ted_Wy­man

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.

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