Canada may be a dominant country in curling, but not in a version of the sport making its Olympic debut.
When the International Olympic Committee said less than two years ago that mixed doubles would be in the 2018 Winter Games, Curling Canada went into hurry-up mode.
Canada helped develop mixed doubles by including it in the annual Continental Cup of Curling since 2002. But the game featuring teams of one man and one woman, who chase their own rocks down the ice to sweep them, was seen as a novelty behind the traditional four-person teams.
In nine years of world mixed doubles championships, Canada won a bronze medal in 2009.
This year’s world championship is April 22-29 in Lethbridge, Alta.
Canada’s elite curlers are interested in mixed doubles, but it’s their Olympic back-up plan. If their team doesn’t make it to the Games through December’s Olympic team trials in Ottawa, there’s the doubles trials in January.
“Everyone is going to try to be with their regular four-person team and it’s just more of a Plan B if things don’t go right,” said Ryan Fry, the third on the reigning men’s Olympic champion team skipped by Brad Jacobs.
“I can speak for everyone that’s in this league that no one is really looking at it until the qualification process for the regular curling is over with.”
Emma Miskew, third for Canadian women’s champion Rachel Homan, echoes Fry’s sentiment.
“If we aren’t successful at the trials, you kind of have a second chance for the Olympics,” she said. “It’s not on the forefront of my mind by any means.”
Mixed doubles games are eight ends instead of 10 with each team delivering five stones.
The big wrinkle is a stone belonging to each team is positioned before the end — one a centre guard and the other on the back edge of the button — with both eligible to count towards scoring.
So strategy is different from the traditional team game.
Curling Canada appointed former Canadian and world champion Jeff Stoughton the manager of the mixed doubles program in the summer of 2015.
“We felt the mixed doubles was pushed into the Olympics,” Stoughton said. “I think the WCF [World Curling Federation] was surprised they got it this time around.
“When you get it, you’re not going to say ‘no, we’re not ready.’ They said ‘we’re going.’ No offence to Curling Canada, we weren’t in a position to be ready to go.
“It was basically, ‘well, it’s an opportunity to get a medal. Let’s get our top players to play. Let’s get our top mixed doubles teams to keep playing and try and qualify for the Olympics.”‘
One or the other
The possibility a Canadian could compete in both team curling and mixed doubles in Pyeongchang was discussed, and discarded.
The team round-robin starts the day after the mixed doubles gold-medal game. It would impact a team’s preparation to have one member competing in mixed doubles.
Berths up for grabs
A host city has yet to be named for Canada’s 18-team mixed doubles trials…