GANGNEUNG, South Korea – There was disappointment for Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris to process back in December, when the Canadian Olympic curling trials ended with their rinks on the outside looking in. Each had been to the Winter Games before, him in 2010, her in 2014, both coming home with gold medals, both desperate for another shot at the world’s best bonspiel.
But that once-in-a-quadrennial opportunity was gone, and for Morris, things were even more uncertain, as Rachel Homan, his mixed curling partner, had won the women’s trials to book a ticket for Pyeongchang with her own rink and was no longer available.
So Morris went looking for a new partner and Lawes was free and the mixed trials were a month away and they started that 2-3. Still, they believed in each other, and it turned, and they rallied to win in Portage la Prairie, Man., and just a bit more than a month later they were at the Gangneung Curling Centre shaking hands with the Swiss pair of Jenny Perret and Martin Rios after stealing two in the sixth end of a 10-3 win, Olympic champions once again.
“We had our tails between our legs, but you know what, it’s the Olympics, we had a chance to go to the Olympics and represent Canada and win a medal for Canada,” said Morris. “That’s very motivating.”
Added Lawes: “The biggest thing about our team is that we grind and we try and find ways to get better and we didn’t let (the early struggles at the trials) frustrate us. Same thing here. We lost our first game and it felt similar to those trials where we didn’t feel we were playing that poorly, we just had to find a way to improve a couple of percentage points each game.”
That early 9-6 hiccup against Norway aside, the Canadians dominated the inaugural mixed curling event at the Olympics from start to finish. Their narrowest margin of victory was two, 6-4 over the United States, and they blew out everyone else, including Switzerland 7-2 in the preliminary round, by playing an offensive-minded brand of curling.
The mixed format – in which teams are made up of two players rather than four, and get six rocks apiece (one of which is pre-positioned along the centre line) – opens the door to what some described as a more entertaining kind of curling by allowing the house to get filled with rocks, creating the opportunity for high-scoring ends.
The appeal even drew the attention of Mr. T, who caught some curling fever.
I am really Pumped watching the Winter Olympics. I am watching events I never thought I would watch before, like curling. You heard me, curling Fool!
— Mr. T (@MrT) February 11, 2018
Curling is kind of different, but it’s Exciting. It’s not as easy as it looks. It takes some skills that’s for sure. I like it!
— Mr. T (@MrT) February 11, 2018
A question about whether the four finalists were aware that mixed curling was reaching non-traditional fans such as Mr. T left Rios bewildered, but Morris jumped all over it, saying the exposure the sport received was fantastic before adding: “We would accept a challenge from Mr. T, not an arm-wrestling challenge, but maybe a mixed doubles curling challenge, if he’s around.”
Jokes aside, Lawes and Morris were on the offensive throughout the gold-medal final, securing a game-changing four-spot in the third end. Canada was lying five with one rock to go thanks to a Rios flash, but after Perret pushed out two rocks with her last stone, Lawes made a tap for four to open up a 6-2 lead.
As important as their offence was before a rowdy, chanting, hoser-heavy but small crowd, their defence was similarly effective.
Perret and Rios conceded in the sixth end, during which they were at one point lying four. But a Morris shot to the four-foot put some heat on the Swiss, another Rios miss pushed the Canadian rock closer, Lawes set up a possible steal of two with her final rock and Perret couldn’t clear the house with the hammer.
“One of our best assets of the week was our power-play defence,” said Morris. “The power play is a chance to get multiple points and it really favours the team with the hammer. Kaitlyn made most of her first shots and we really didn’t let the opposition score big points on the power play.
“If you can do that, you’re going to win a lot of games in mixed doubles.”
That they did and Canada’s streak of winning a medal at every Olympic curling competition since the sport debuted in 1998 lives on, the men and the women combining to win five gold, three silver and two bronze medals.
Morris, of Ottawa, won gold as vice-skip for Kevin Martin at the 2010 Vancouver Games, while Lawes, from Winnipeg, was the third on the Jennifer Jones team that went 11-0 en route to gold at the Sochi Olympics.
Now, their last-minute reunion adds another to the list.
“It’s been such an amazing experience learning and playing mixed doubles with John,” said Lawes. “He’s a very talented athlete, very smart, strategic and he’s a great communicator and that brought out the best in the both of us.”
Added Morris: “I didn’t have a lot of doubt that we would have a great dynamic. What I like about her most is she’s got a great fiery competitiveness to her, but at the same time we communicate very effectively. I call her ‘Mighty Mouse’ because she can sweep. She’s like a buck-10 and five-feet tall but she can sweep a lot better than a lot of men out there. She packs a big punch and she makes a lot of clutch shots.
“This experience we’ve had this week is something we’ll cherish for the rest of our lives.”