Top curlers call out Olympic selection process after Canada misses podium

Feb 8 2022, 4:59 pm

For years, it seemed like a podium finish in curling was an Olympic guarantee for any event that a Canadian entered, regardless of the athletes picked were picked. But in 2018, Canada was hit with a harsh reality, missing the podium in both the men’s and women’s events at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

Though the duo of John Morris and Kaitlyn Lawes won the Olympics’ first-ever mixed doubles curling gold medal four years ago, a repeat was not in store. Combined with the 2018 losses, that’s three straight podiums Canada has not seen itself on.

The mixed doubles miss seemed like it could have been prevented, though.

Canada’s mixed doubles team: comprised this year of Morris and Rachel Homan — missed the four-team playoffs after a loss by millimetres to eventual gold medallists Italy in their final round-robin game.

Morris and Homan’s have each won three Canadian championships. But questions are being asked if choices by Canada’s governing body were setting the pair up for failure with poor preparation.

Canada’s mixed doubles trials — set to take place in late December — were cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns, leaving Curling Canada set scrambling to come up with criteria to select a duo to compete in Beijing.

Homan and Morris hadn’t played together since 2018, focusing primarily on their own four-person teams.

On Sportsnet’s Inside Curling podcast, 2010 Olympic gold medallist skip Kevin Martin said that Curling Canada needed to be more proactive in its selection process, giving Homan and Morris a longer runway in the leadup to the Games.

“John and Rachel found out a few days before leaving for the Olympics that they’re going to be the Olympic team,” Martin said. “That is just not smart… [for] a governing body in your in your country to wait that long.”

“Obviously, they’re such good curlers,” Martin added. “They had a chance anyway. But we didn’t give them the best chance possible.”

CBC commentator Colleen Jones backed Martin’s sentiment. Jones, a six-time Canadian champion and a two-time World Champion, voiced her opinion in an episode of CBC’s That Curling Show.

Talking about Norway’s silver medal-winning duo of mixed doubles Kristin Skaslien and Magnus Nedregotten, Jones contrasted the preparation time with the Canadian team — at best, a little over two months, even if the Olympic Trials had gone ahead. Norway’s same duo had won an Olympic bronze together in 2018 and appeared in seven mixed world championships.

“They started preparing for this four years ago,” Jones said. “Is that not a message for Curling Canada, to at least put the trials on in the spring so that your Olympic rep can get over to Europe and play in the massive European mixed doubles events?”

Canada’s depth in elite curling makes isolating two athletes several years in advance — as other countries do — an unlikely scenario. But at the very least, former players like Jones and Martin think that not enough was done to prepare for the Olympic competition properly.

“We’ll look at the preparation in four years that we gave Johnny and Rachel, and we’ll laugh at it,” Jones added. “They’re a great team; they’re great players. But we expected them to show up here and be prepared, with no Olympic trials, with a training camp in Canmore, but not coming and playing these teams that were [playing mixed doubles] on a regular basis. It’s just not going to work.”

The men’s and women’s curling tournaments begin on February 9, with Brad Gushue and Jennifer Jones skipping the Canadian teams.

Adam LaskarisAdam Laskaris

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