Lawes & Morris pumped for new Olympic challenge in mixed doubles

John Morris, Kaitlyn Lawes and coach Jeff Stoughton (from left to right) will represent Canada at the inaugural Olympic mixed doubles competition at the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (John Woods/CP)

Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris have won gold medals before at the Olympics and are now ready for a new challenge in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Lawes and Morris will represent Canada in the inaugural mixed doubles curling tournament at the Winter Games and both are stoked to have the opportunity to be the first to attempt to bring home gold in the discipline.

Even just getting a chance to return to the Olympics has left them in awe.

“Oh my gosh, what a dream,” Lawes said during last month’s Meridian Canadian Open. “I’m still in shock, to be honest, and it’s surreal. I’m so honoured to have this opportunity to be a part of the first mixed doubles in the Olympics. What a thrill and I’m so lucky that John asked me to play with him.”

“It feels unreal,” Morris added. “It’s really fantastic that there’s another discipline of curling at the Olympics because it gives us curlers in Canada another shot at getting there, another avenue. I just feel that’s the pinnacle of any sport. To be going there with another shot to win gold, I feel pretty fortunate.”

Morris captured gold on home ice at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games as the vice skip for Kevin Martin while Lawes earned her medal four years later in the same role with Jennifer Jones in Sochi, Russia.

It’s actually a coincidence how the two joined together. Morris, who grew up in Ottawa and now lives in Canmore, Alta., originally teamed with longtime friend Rachel Homan to clinch a spot in the Canad Inns Canadian Mixed Doubles Trials. However, Homan’s Ottawa club won the women’s Olympic Trials in December forcing Morris to find a new partner.

Enter Lawes, from Winnipeg, who had played competitive mixed doubles with fellow gold medallists Marc Kennedy and Ryan Fry previously but was a free agent until Morris came calling.

“I was just really fortunate that she was available,” Morris said. “Rachel has a great team and they were, I’d say, somewhat expected to win the trials and they did. They’ll be a great rep for us. I just got a little lucky Kaitlyn was available and someone of her calibre. She’s right up there with the best shooters in the world in women’s.

“I knew we’d work well together, she’s easy to communicate with and brings a lot of good, positive energy to the game. It has worked really well so far. It took a couple games for us to find our groove but then we started thriving there at the end.”

Lawes also admitted it required some experimenting to get the chemistry going at the mixed doubles trials in Portage la Prairie, Man., before they found the winning formula and capped things off with an 8-6 victory over Val Sweeting and Brad Gushue in the final.

“It was nice I played with John in the Continental Cup a couple years, so that felt a little comfortable but it still had been a number of years,” she said. “We had some quick growing pains but we kept saying let’s just keep learning, stay patient and try and find our way into that final and see what happens. What an exciting time for us.”

Mixed doubles made its competitive debut at the first Continental Cup in 2002. Teams have six rocks per end with one already in play. One player throws the first and last stones while the other tosses the middle three. The second player can help sweep the rock or stay in the house to call line while the shooter brushes the path themselves. Games are also played to eight ends rather than 10.

Morris and Lawes have both been fans since the start.

“I’ve always loved it. I think it’s a great addition to our sport,” Morris said. “I think it’s a very athletic game. It’s a very exciting game because there are lots of rocks in play. I like that it’s a little bit quicker; it’s an hour and a half rather than two and a half or three. There are a lot of really good things about it. The rest of the world has really caught on to it and it’s blown up internationally. I think that it’s here to stay and it’s a lot of fun.”

“I find that it’s fast-paced,” Lawes added. “You have to be so focused on every single shot because if you stop thinking for one second, the other team could take advantage of it. I love that aspect and it’s physical. I love that now curling has another medal opportunity. How great for our sport to help grow it and other countries around the world.”

The first world mixed doubles championship was held in 2008 and the average curling fan may be surprised to learn Canada isn’t a perennial powerhouse collecting just one bronze and one silver medal over the years. Switzerland leads the way with six world titles while Hungary and Russia have won gold twice each.

Canada was in danger of not even qualifying for the Winter Olympics in mixed doubles until Reid Carruthers and Joanne Courtney earned the aforementioned silver last year to secure a spot.

“Canada hasn’t won a gold at the world championship in mixed doubles so we’re going to try and be the first,” Lawes said.

Lawes is also looking forward to taking in the whole Olympic experience again and joining a larger Team Canada collective. When Lawes saw Homan and Kevin Koe’s teams in the hallway at the Meridian Canadian Open, she called out, “Hey teammates!”

“It’s amazing. Being a part of that bigger team, Team Canada, it’s so powerful and everyone is so united,” Lawes said. “I can’t wait to get back with my Olympic family and cheer on the other athletes. Just having them around us is so inspiring because you know that they’ve had to work so hard to get there as well and you just want to make your teammates proud.”

Morris will practically be Team Canada’s mascot as you can expect to see him decked out head to toe in red and white and cheering on all his teammates.

“It’s going to be great to have a different perspective. Especially with mixed doubles, you play the first week and then you’re done for the last two weeks,” he said. “I’m really excited to experience and savour every moment of it.

“I’m going to be staying there cheering on both our Canadian women’s and men’s curling teams and all of our sports we have. I’m going to be putting on all the Canada gear I can fit and just cheer as loud as I can.”

Canada’s quest for mixed doubles gold begins Thursday at 9 a.m. local time (Wednesday, 7 p.m. ET) against Norway.

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