By Jamie Pashagumskum
Team Canada made Olympic history on Tuesday when Kaitlyn Lawes of Winnipeg and Ottawa’s John Morris — a product of the Ottawa Curling Club — won gold in the first ever mixed doubles curling competition at the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Lawes and Morris decisively defeated Switzerland’s Jenny Perret and Martin Rios in the Feb. 13 gold-medal match by a score of 10-3.
The Canadian pair had an almost perfect round-robin streak, losing only once to Norway — the same team Lawes and Morris beat in the semi-finals to reach the finals against the Swiss team.
Parret and Rios went into the semis with a record of five wins and two losses, just behind the Canadians. They played the Olympic Athletes of Russia in the semi-final round, defeating them 7-5.
With the exception of their loss to Norway, Lawes/Morris rolled easily through the rest of the round-robin competition, with their closest game a 6-4 win over the U.S.
The Canadian team powered their way through the finals with tough offence and even better defence whenever Switzerland threatened on a few occasions to score big. By the third end, Lawes/Morris were ahead 6-2. By the end of the sixth, with Canada’s lead stretched to 10-3, the Swiss foresaw defeat and conceded the match.
A jubilant Morris hoisted Lawes high above the ice in celebration.
Growing up in Ottawa, Morris was coached by his father, Earle Morris, a former national competitor who went on to a legendary coaching career as the club professional at the OCC’s historic O’Connor Street ice sheets.
The club’s Twitter feed was buzzing Tuesday with the news that the 39-year-old John Morris, a fixture at the OCC in his youth, had earned his second Olympic gold medal. Morris was also a member of Canada’s Olympic championship foursome at the Vancouver Games in 2010.
Earle Morris coached his son’s OCC rink to the first of two world junior men’s titles in the late 1990s and travelled to Pyeongchang to witness the Lawes/Morris victory in the inaugural Olympic mixed doubles tournament.
Ottawa curling fans were disappointed, however, when a podium finish eluded the OCC’s Rachel Homan rink in the Olympic women’s competition. Homan and teammates Emma Miskew, Joanne Courtney and Lisa Weagle fell short of the medal round after posting a 4-5 won-lost record during round-robin play.
Also coached at one time by Earle Morris, Team Homan had a banner year in 2017, however, winning the Scotties national title and the world championship in Beijing before earning their ticket to PyeongChang at the Roar of the Rings Olympic qualifying tournament in hometown Ottawa in December.
The gold-medal performance by Morris and Lawes was one of Canada’s first big triumphs at the Pyeongchang Games and a source of pride in Ottawa.
“His native home is right here in Beacon Hill,” said Gloucester-area Coun. Tim Tierney. “A lot of the members of the community know John well and as a community we’re super proud of him.
Ottawa Curling Club manager Dala Abou-Eid said the high-profile participation of Ottawa curlers in the Olympic Games has sparked a sharp increase in public inquiries about the club.
She said this year was different because the mixed doubles is a novel event and has caught caught everyone’s attention.
“Of course with the Olympics, everyone is going to want to try the game. That makes it more popular,” Abou-Eid said.
The problem with playing mixed doubles is finding additional ice time to accommodate new players. As it is, the OCC is booked every weekend until the end of March.
“I’m not the only club that is busy — every one of us in the city is very busy,” Abou-Eid said. “All the clubs are in the same situation.”
Centretown resident John Whitaker has been curling for 11 years and has been a volunteer at the OCC for the past two years. Whitaker has noticed a rising popularity in mixed doubles, but he is doubtful that it will catch on much at his club.
“It’s fun that it is now playing in the Games,” Whitaker said. “We (Canadians) are exceling because we have such great curlers, the top curlers in the world.”
Whitaker said the traditional four-person game is still going to be of more interest to Canadians. He said the two-person game is more of a European game and is not going to replace any of the team leagues already established here in Canada.
Denis Laframboise has been playing in an interprovincial league at the OCC since the 1970s. Laframboise watched all the mixed doubles games from the beginning of the trials in Manitoba to the Olympics. He said he was impressed with the Canadians’ play in the Peyongchang finals against the Swiss.
“They seemed to be confusing the other team. John and Kaitlyn really knew what they were doing. They knew the European-style game,” Laframboise said.
The Canadian duo of Lawes and Morris came together for the first time as a team for the Olympic trials at Portage la Prairie in December. Morris’ planned partner, Homan, had became unavailable for the mixed doubles tournament after earning a berth in the Olympic women’s team event with a victory at the Roar of the Rings qualifier in Ottawa in early December.
Morris and Lawes struggled a little through the mixed doubles trials but started to “gel” by the end of the tournament to take the win and earn the honour of representing Canada at the Olympic Games.
This adjustment phase continued at Pyeongchang with a disappointing loss to the Norwegians in the historic first mixed doubles game at the Olympics. But then the Canadians went undefeated through their remaining matches to secure the gold.
Whitaker said the team event is a more pleasing game to watch than mixed doubles. It’s an opinion not shared by famous American actor Mr. T, who drew attention by tweeting numerous times during the mixed doubles event about how much he loved the new version of the sport.
He ended the tweet with #curlingiscoolfool.
As attention was turning to the Olympic women’s competition in mid-February, Abou-Eid said she had received numerous calls from the public inquiring whether non-club members were allowed to visit the venue to watch the Team Homan games.
She said about 100 people were expected to gather to watch the Canadians’ opening match against Korea.
As it turned out, Team Homan lost that opening match and the next two en route to their early exit from medal contention.