Olympics Today: Mixed curling is fast, fun and worth your time

Beginning today and during each day of the Games, Olympics Today will keep you up-to-date on the biggest news and happenings, on and off the field of play.

Key Links:
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In mixed curling action Canada lost to Norway 9-6 as the Norwegians stole two in the eighth end to secure the victory away from the Canadian duo of Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris. But they did bounce back early Thursday morning. Despite a couple miscues from Lawes, she was clutch down the stretch with her final rock in the eighth end as Canada beat the United States 6-4 to even their record at 1-1.

My biggest takeaway from the early mixed curling action is the new version of curling might help make the sport more inviting to a younger generation of fans. For starters, it is a much faster paced game. Mixed curling games take just 90 minutes to complete, as opposed to team curling which can take anywhere from two-and-a-half to three hours to complete. Plus, there is a cool dynamic of having a male and female on the same team.

Traditional curling fans in Canada have had trouble warming up to this version of the game while the sport continues to grow in popularity around the world. As for myself, I wasn’t a curling fan growing up and I have no real relationship with the sport. But I found myself enjoying the drama of the mixed game. In traditional curling, if you’re down a couple of points you’re in trouble, but in the mixed game you have a better chance at a comeback with a three or a four-ender.

So if you’re a a traditional curling fan, don’t hate on the mixed game. It’s a fun alternative, and not a replacement for the sport you love. And if you’re not a curling fan, use these Olympics as an opportunity to give the game another shot, this time via the fan-friendly mixed version.

Russians dominating Games talk for wrong reasons:

The XXIII Olympic Winter Games are already being overshadowed by doping scandals and political drama. The last time South Korea hosted the Olympics, in 1988, of course it was Canada that featured prominently in a doping scandal.

I was five-years-old in 1988, but I can recall the euphoria of Ben Johnson’s 9.79 and the shame that followed two days later when he failed his drug test.

Fast forward to today where it’s been proven that Russia sanctioned state-sponsored doping. And apparently at least one Canadian isn’t too happy about it as there have been reports of a heated exchange between members of the Canadian contingent and Russian officials.

Good for us. At least someone is standing up to Russia. The Court of Arbitration for Sport has reversed sanctions against 28 Russian athletes accused of doping. The games have already begun and an additional 30 Russian athletes are appealing their ban. In the end, the number of Russian athletes that compete in these Games won’t be that far off from the number that competed four years ago in Sochi.

As a Canadian, knowing how vilified Johnson (and even Ross Rebagliati) were outside the country, it’s annoying to see the courts be so lenient with the Russians. What will this lenience mean for Canadian athletes? Biathlon, cross-country skiing and hockey are competitions in which Canada is a medal contender and Russian athletes traditionally fare well. If a Russian athlete finishes higher on the podium than a Canadian — or worse, finishes third and knocks a Canadian off it altogether — Canadians will rightly be incensed.

Thanks to Russia there is going to be an asterisk over many of the results at these games. It’s a shame we can’t just enjoy the spectacle of sport and honour the hard work and dedication of the athletes.

Happening Later Thursday:

Here is what’s on tap, events-wise for Canadian athletes.

• Alpine Skiing: 9 p.m.
Men’s Downhill – 2nd Training

• Curling: 6:35 pm | 11:35 p.m.
Mixed Doubles’ Curling Round-Robin – China vs Canada (6:35 p.m.)
Mixed Doubles’ Curling Round-Robin – Canada vs Finland (11:35 pm.)

• Figure Skating: 8:00 p.m.| 9:45 p.m.
Team Men’s Short Program (8:00 p.m.)
Team Pairs Short Program (9:45 p.m.)

• Freestyle Skiing: 8:00 p.m.
Ladies’ Moguls – Qualification (8:00 p.m.)
Men’s Moguls – Qualification (9:45 p.m.)

If you’re looking for something to get you set for the figure skating, here’s The Interview from Kristina Rutherford on Virtue and Moir.

There’s also this profile on Patrick Chan and his preparation for the Games.

To get ready for curling, check out this Big Read on Rachel Homan by Kristina Rutherford.

Sportsnet Dispatches from Korea:

Shi Dividi’s latest column is on the Canadian men’s Olympic hockey team, who now have a captain and are shaping their identity amid a whirlwind schedule.

On Thursday, we also published this feature from Shi on how the near-death experiences and excruciating rehab have defined how Canadian speedskater Denny Morrison and snowboarder Mark McMorris made it to Pyeongchang.

Kristina Rutherford explains why it wasn’t the start Canada was looking for in their mixed Olympic curling debut as it lost to Norway.

Proud to be Canadian:

The Canadian flag was raised in the Olympic village on Wednesday. Unsurprisingly, at Canada House you can find poutine in the kitchen and Canadian beer in the fridge. For the first time ever, Canada House will be open to the public, for a $25 entry fee. Also for the first time, Pride House, will be hosted by a national Olympic committee (Canada).

It’s no coincidence that the first-ever Pride House was in Canada during the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. Since then, Pride House has also made appearances at other major sporting events such as the FIFA World Cup. Our Olympic teams are supposed to be a representation our nation. By reinforcing the ideals of inclusion, diversity and respect it’s great to see the COC championing these values. There are 92 countries competing in these Games. I’m proud Canada was the country to make this gesture.

Canadian men’s Olympic hockey team touches down

Canada is sending 225 athletes to the Games, our largest-ever winter Olympics contingent. Canada’s much-discussed, yet largely unknown men’s Olympic hockey team arrived in Korea on Thursday. Canada is in Group A along with Switzerland, the Czech Republic and the host nation South Korea. They play their first-round robin game against Switzerland on Feb. 15 at 7 a.m. ET.

• For more on how the team came together, check out this Big Read from Sportsnet’s Daniel Nugent-Bowman: Redefining Team Canada.

And of course, follow Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi (@shidavidi), who will be covering the men’s tournament for sportsnet.ca. Shi wrote this Oral History on the 1994 men’s Olympic hockey tournament, the last time the event did not feature NHLers:

Canada also named the captain of Team Canada’s men’s hockey team and the honour went to Chris Kelly. The 37-year-old defender is the only player on the Canadian roster to have won the Stanley Cup. Kelly participated in 833 NHL games, including all 82 with the Ottawa Senators last year.

Elsewhere on the web:

• When you think of the Winter Olympics, you don’t necessarily think of ethnic diversity. Which is why I love the story of Luger Shiva Keshavan from India who is competing in his sixth Winter Olympics. Keshavan trains on the Himalayan highways. After first competing in the Winter Olympics in 1998 in Nagano, he is one of only two athletes representing India in PyeongChang.

The New York Times has a great profile of him here. Meanwhile, this feature shows how he trains on such dangerous roads.

• eSports is recognized by the IOC and is making a push for Olympic inclusion, re-opening the question of what constitutes a sport?

• So you think it’s cold in Canada? Things are far chillier in South Korea. In fact, we’re on track for the most frigid Olympics ever. Yesterday it was -25C during the day. Read all about how the temperature is impacting the Olympics here and here.

• The Korean War never officially ended. The Olympic village at these games are just 80 Kilometers from the North Korean border and the demilitarized zone. With tensions between the two regimes so high the question of where to sit the officials from both sides at the Opening ceremonies is actually a logistical nightmare. Here is why.

• After training for four years, Olympic athletes won’t let anything stop them. There are no NBA-style “DNP coache’s decision” situations in international amateur sport. British snowboarder Katie Ormerod of team GB broke her wrist while training in Pyeongchang, but she’s still planning to compete.

• Is hosting an Olympics financially prudent? CBS News did a deep dive on that question in this feature.

• Sex in the Olympic village is always a story. From the record number of condoms provided, to the amount of sex that actually takes place, to the impact of the #MeToo movement, all angles are being covered.

Canadian Athletes to Follow on Social Media

The best part of the Games is following our athletes’ Olympic experiences via social media. The five most-mentioned winter sports in 2018 via the @TeamCanada account and the #TeamCanada hashtag are hockey, skiing (alpine, freestyle, ski jumping), figure skating and ice dancing, bobsleigh and speed skating.

If you want to be part of the #PyeongChang2018 Twitter conversation, I’ve got you covered.

Here are the 10 most-mentioned Canadian Olympic athletes in 2018:

1. Tessa Virtue: ice dancing (@TessaVirtue)

2. Scott Moir: ice dancing (@ScottMoir)

3. Patrick Chan: figure skating (@Pchiddy)

4. Mercedes Nicoll: snowboarding (@mercedesnicoll)

5. Rachel Homan: curling (@TeamHoman)

6. Meagan Duhamel: figure skating, pairs (@mhjd_85)

7. Gabby Daleman: figure skating (@gabby_daleman)

8. Mark McMorris: snowboarding (@MarkMcMorris)

9. Eric Radford: figure skating (@Rad85E)

10. Kaillie Humphries: bobsleigh (@BobsledKaillie)