Homan ramps up preparation plans for world championship

Ontario skip Rachel Homan calls to her sweepers during the Scotties Tournament of Hearts final in St. Catharines, Ont. (Anil Mungal)

If you happen to see Rachel Homan throwing rocks well past midnight at the Ottawa Curling Club, it’s probably just part of her plan preparing for the upcoming world women’s curling championship in Beijing.

Homan, ranked No. 1 on the World Curling Tour, captured her third career Canadian title last month and is now on a graveyard shift schedule to adjust her body clock to the time difference ahead for the international competition.

The team of Homan, third Emma Miskew, second Joanne Courtney and lead Lisa Weagle depart Monday — giving them a few days to acclimatize on the ground and deal with the inevitable jet lag — but their skip is aiming to be as ready as possible before arriving in China.

“Hopefully when we land we’ll be right on Beijing time and it won’t be as long to get accustomed to their schedule,” Homan said Friday during a media teleconference. “We’ve got some specialist on our team to help us figure out when we need to go to bed and when we need to wake up and the hours we need to make sure we get as close to Beijing time as possible, earlier than just starting day one in Beijing.”

At 27 years old, Homan is the youngest skip ever to capture three Canadian championships. Homan, Miskew and Weagle won back-to-back Scotties Tournament of Hearts in 2013 and 2014 with Alison Kreviazuk at second. Courtney joined the team ahead of the 2014-15 season and makes her world championship debut this time.

Homan brought home a bronze medal from the 2013 worlds in Riga, Latvia, and settled for silver in 2014 in Saint John, N.B. Having that prior experience playing in Latvia is key heading to China as they believe they will not be caught off-guard this time around by the unexpected challenges playing in an overseas event.

“I think that the first time we went it was really overwhelming travelling to another country we’ve never been to and getting acclimatized there and trying to figure out what we can eat and all of that sort of stuff,” Miskew said. “We know this time it’s going to be a culture shock for us. We’ve been preparing for it. We’ve been at two world championships now, this is our second one abroad, so we know a little bit of what to expect. It’s going to be a little bit more reassuring heading over there this time than it was the first time.”

“The first time you go everything is so new and foreign,” Homan added. “We did our best and we came up a little bit short. The second time was in Canada and we did a little bit better. The more experience you have the better. We’re fairly young for being able to go to our third worlds so we have a bit of experience on our side and to be able to recover as best as we can and use our past experiences of maybe going over burnt out and learning from that and trying to be rested going into worlds this time.”

Although arriving a few days early will give them time to check out the scenery, remaining rested and relaxed is their top priority for the stretch especially when it’s been a grind just getting to this step through provincials and nationals and making sure they’re still in peak performance.

“People say you get to travel all over and it must be so exciting but mostly the focus is rest when you can and focusing on getting ready for your games, so there’s not much time,” Homan said. “You’re either sleeping [or] trying to find food that’s going to energize you for your games. Trying to last a 10-day event is very taxing especially when we’re the only country that’s had to play 23 games to get here back-to-back-to-back. We had an eight-day tournament and then a 10-day tournament and then going overseas and playing another 10-day tournament.

“Rest and recovery is number one for us and I think that’s going to be our main focus. I’d love to stay longer and travel, but we’ve got to come back for more tournaments back home as well. It’ll be a great experience and we’re going to focus as best as we can for those couple days when we get to tour around, I can’t wait, but then it’s just curling-focused.”

Homan’s first game is next Saturday against China, skipped by 2009 world champ Bingyu Wang. It isn’t going to be the first time Homan has played the heel role in another team’s backyard and will again turn to past experiences to help her get through it if the crowd isn’t on her side.

“I don’t know what the popularity is of curling over there. I know that it’s fairly popular but I don’t know what the attendance is going to be. I heard it’s a big arena but there’s not always a ton of fans in there so you don’t know what to expect,” Homan said. “We’ve played in arenas where the crowd was against us. We know how to fight through that and keep focused on our game so if that’s the case we’re prepared for it. If it’s a quiet arena we’ve played in those before as well. I think they’ll be gunning for us, home team in opening draw, but we’ll be ready.”

Homan believes the remote atmosphere will be a lot like their experience in Latvia, however, they will have a contingent of family and friends joining them and she understands those back home will be doing their best to stay up late to watch the games.

“It’s a little bit tougher to communicate back home but we know there’s going to be some impact on work productivity in Canada, I think, from all of our friends and family staying up late,” Homan said. “Might be some calling in sick to work and stuff and trying to get some sleep. I think there’s going to be a lot of people watching and cheering us on all over Canada and we know that.

“We’ll be in a bit of a bubble overseas but we have some people coming to cheer us on and that’s pretty exciting. Jo’s parents are coming and it’s her first worlds and we’re so excited about that as well. I think that we’re definitely going to be in a bubble and far away and different culture. A few challenges that we anticipate but because we’re anticipating them we’ll be best prepared for them.”

The world women’s curling championship is the last major international competition before next year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Homan sees playing in this as an advantage heading into December’s Olympic Trials — taking place in her hometown with the winner representing Canada at the Winter Games — although her goal for now is to make it to the top of the podium at the worlds.

“It’s definitely important but also a great opportunity that we see that no other team is going to have this opportunity to play internationally before the Trials,” said Homan, who won the 2015 Canada Cup to earn an Olympic Trials spot. “For us we’re just trying to take every advantage of the opportunity that has presented itself by having a great week at the Scotties as a team. We’re obviously trying to prepare as best as we can and learn from the whole experience of provincials and nationals and then going into worlds and taking everything we can.

“Then after it’s all said and done evaluating how it went and how we prepared and what worked and what didn’t, both individually and as a team, and able to apply that to the Trials when the time comes. But I think right now we’re excited for the opportunity to represent our country and really got to stay focused on the worlds. I’m recording everything that happens along the way to make sure we’ve got that information going into the Trials, but also to best prepare ourselves to bring home gold for Canada.”