Canadian curlers Rachel Homan, John Morris come up short in Olympic mixed doubles by being a fraction long
BEIJING It’s no wonder Canada’s curling contingent came into these Olympics trying to downplay expectations while rhapsodizing endlessly about the ever-increasing strength and depth of their sport’s global talent pool.
Apparently they weren’t just saying it to be nice to their competitors. They were saying it because it’s true. If John Morris and Rachel Homan’s quick exit from the mixed doubles event is any indication — and if you look at Canada’s record in the men’s and women’s four-person event in international events in the past handful of years — Canada’s curling establishment isn’t simply being modest in its repeated insistence that they’re in tough at the international level.
Never mind that Canada was once a dominant force in the sport. The world hasn’t just caught up to Canada. By a lot of measures, it’s passed it.
Witness the stunning collapse of the Canadians in mixed doubles, which culminated in Monday’s 8-7 extra-end loss to undefeated Italy. Only the day before Canada looked to be cruising comfortably into the semifinals, where they would have been one win away from a guaranteed medal. Then came a horrific loss to last-place Australia, which transformed Monday’s game against Italy into a win-or-go-home affair. Alas, while Homan had a chance to win with a draw to the button in the extra end, her attempt came up a fraction long.
And though it was too close to call without a measurement, even before an official pointed to Italy’s rock to award it the decisive point, Morris looked to the sky in dismay, slamming his broom to the ground in frustration.
“It’s a heartbreaking loss. That’s as tough as they get in life,” he said. “We battled with everything we had. The field this week is phenomenal. I still felt we could win it … If we win that game we’re in a good position to get a gold or at least a medal for Canada … It’s probably the toughest loss I may have ever had.”
Homan, who skipped the women’s team that failed to make the playoffs in Pyeongchang, came up short in her attempt at Olympic redemption — or rather, came up agonizingly long.
“I thought it was pretty good,” she said of her final rock. “I tried to go aggressive on it. And I literally went aggressive on it by an eighth of an inch. It’s a game of millimetres out there. One more shot and we’re in the playoffs. That sucks. And we tried our best for Canada. We made some phenomenal shots when we needed to, and John was phenomenal all week. I wish I could have made a few more.”
The good news is there are still two curling gold medals up for grabs. The bad news is mixed doubles is the event Canada’s supposed to be good at — certainly it’s the only one in which Canada won a medal in 2018, when Morris teamed with Kaitlyn Lawes to capture gold. It’s also the only curling discipline in which Canada came into these Olympics ranked No. 1 in the world. (Canada ranks No. 3 and No. 5 in the men’s and women’s four-person events, respectively).
Maybe it’s no time to panic. Canada skips Jennifer Jones and Brad Gushue have both stood on the top step of the Olympic podium before. And maybe panic is the wrong reaction by now. This is hardly the first time Canada has looked underwhelming on the world stage. Canada didn’t even make the semifinals of the men’s world championship last year and hasn’t won there since 2017. And as much as Morris and Lawes were the lone bright spot for Canadian curling in the Olympic debut of mixed doubles, their victory was more of an aberration than most Canadians might want to acknowledge. In 13 runnings of the mixed doubles world championship, Canada has never won gold. It’s won silver twice. Meanwhile, Switzerland has won seven times. Russia and Hungary have won twice each. Seen in that light, Canada’s ouster here is less an exception than a rule.
Still, it’s hard to excuse Canada’s failure to at least make the playoffs. It doesn’t get much more humiliating than losing to last-place Australia, even if it came in an extra-end, 10-8 nail-biter. Australia, a duo coached by Morris in the lead-up to the Olympics, came into the match with one victory in eight tries.
“With one half a break or one millimetre here or there, we’re playing in that semifinal,” Morris said. “There’s no point beating a dead horse.”
The dead horse, of course, has become a truism: Canada just isn’t that great at curling, even if Morris professed his belief that Beijing would finish better than it’s started.
“I’ve got nothing but faith in our men’s and women’s curling teams,” Morris said. “We’ve got two wonderful representatives that are going to do us proud and give Canada a great shot. I’m just sorry we couldn’t do it in the mixed doubles.”