GANGNEUNG, South Korea – How is Rachel Homan doing, you ask? “Better today,” the skip says, with a hint of a smile.
No kidding. Minutes ago, she and her Ottawa rink shook hands with a bunch of Americans, they waved their brooms in the air, they smiled and they high-fived. They’d done it, at last.
In their fourth game of these Winter Games, Canada’s women’s curling team put one in the win column. They improved to 1-3 in emphatic fashion, too: The long-awaited first victory for Homan, Emma Miskew, Joanne Courtney and Lisa Weagle was an 11-3 thrashing of the United States. It was over after seven ends.
Said their coach, Adam Kingsbury: “That’s the team that we expected to come.”
It is. These were the reigning world champions on display on Saturday night, the team that barely misses. Though, as Miskew points out, “it’s not like we’re crashing and burning here.”
No, they hadn’t been, with each of their losses coming down to one point, to a rock or two. But still, they hadn’t been winning. Until Saturday, that is.
Canada led this one from start to finish, and a day after Homan curled a game-low 66 per cent and lost to Denmark (the world No. 9), she bounced back, big time. She was near perfect, at 96 per cent.
As the unsmiling American skip Nina Roth put it, Homan was throwing “bombs.”
The Canadian skip said she made some adjustments, that they all did. The result was Homan and Miskew in the high 90s in terms of their efficiency, and Courtney and Weagle not far behind.
“I knew I was a little bit off in those other games,” Homan said, so she focused more on watching the lines and communicating with her teammates.
“It’s not easy when you’re 0-3,” she added. “We stuck together through the whole thing, so I’m just really proud of my team for doing that.”
They looked relaxed out there, too. Like they were having fun. It would be understandable if the losing here was causing a bit of a rift, considering the expectations on this team to repeat what Jennifer Jones and her Winnipeg rink did four years ago, which is win a gold medal, not get out to one of the worst starts in history.
But this team spent last night with their families, and they played cards and they watched TV (possibly, the Bachelor or the Bachelorette). The morning of their first win, they had what Kingsbury called “the most authentic conversation” he’s ever heard from this group.
And whether it was that quality time or those conversations or even the fact they now know the ice a little better, this was a renewed Team Homan on display.
“They’re different,” said Kingsbury, who’s a PhD candidate in psychology, not a curling aficionado. “As we could see. Forget the scoreboard, they’re different people out there today.”
It’s what they needed, and what they need, to run the table or come close to it in their next five games of this round robin, to squeak into the playoffs.
“We’re just getting to know the ice a little bit and I think that tonight we had a really good handle on it,” Miskew said. Not only did they play near-perfect, but, she added, “we were able to capitalize on a couple mistakes.”
The first big one came in the opening end, when Roth missed a takeout on her first shot, then came up short on the draw to allow Team Homan a steal of three.
“After they got their three, they’re the best women’s hitting team in the world,” Roth said. “So…”
So, this one was pretty well over. Homan and Co. never allowed more than a single point in any end for the Americans, and in the fifth, the Canadians scored three to take a 7-2 lead. Homan floated in a third and fourth point in the seventh end, and that’s when the early handshakes came.
It’s a relief, to be sure. Kingsbury wouldn’t call it a panic, but let’s say this team was reeling after their loss on Friday. The team’s staff had a meeting and he was up until 4 a.m., thinking, watching game tape and talking to staff about how they could help this team “at least have a fighting chance,” as he put it.
Kingsbury only went to bed because he got tired, but he was worried, he said, “seeing a team that wanted nothing more than to go out and play well and represent their country, and be the team that they know they can be.”
“But sometimes when you try really hard to be a certain way it has inadvertent consequences. And it’s not that they didn’t try tonight, and it’s not about them going out there and playing free and not caring, because of course they care.
“There’s a lot of pride on the line, and they all know that they were better curlers than was on display the last three games. But I just have a feeling that if we can maintain this vibe…it clicked for them.”
It did. As Homan put it: “It was good enough today and we hope that that performance will lead to a lot more victories.”
Hers is a team that wins in bunches, one that can get on a winning streak that ends with a gold medal around their necks. They did it twice last year, first at world championships and then at Olympic Trials last December, where they lost their opener and then didn’t lose again. Another loss there would’ve cost them a berth to the playoffs, a chance to punch their ticket to these Games.
“Feels like the same situation here,” Homan said. “Again, we can’t lose.”
They can get in with three losses, maybe four if they’re lucky – that happened twice at the last Olympics – but certainly Team Homan doesn’t want it to come to that. As for whether she’s feeling the momentum of another streak, Homan says, “I hope so, we need it.”
Without question, if Homan and Miskew and Courtney and Weagle can pull this off, theirs would be one of the great comeback stories of these Games for Canada.
“Well, this is chapter one, right?” Kingsbury said. “We have five more games, and we’ve got to see more of the same. And I think we certainly can do it. We’re not out of this thing.”
No, they’re not. And having win number one in the bank sure feels good.
“Yeah,” Homan said. “Really good.”