My fellow Canadians, our long national nightmare is not yet over. The Olympic curling does not work.
The latest victims of what is starting to feel like a curse are the mixed-doubles pair of Rachel Homan and John Morris. Homan is a world champion. Morris is the defending gold medallist. Mixed-doubles curling is the beer pong of curling. It’s not that hard to figure out.
Yet after a slow-motion, multi-day collapse, Canada is out. No medal for us.
A series of small disasters meant that on Monday morning, Canada needed to beat Italy in order to make the medal rounds.
Apparently, Italy is good at curling now? When did that happen? Shouldn’t they too busy feeling superior to tourists who order cappuccinos after noon? Anyway, they found some time.
Canada had a chance to win it in the 8th and final end, but Homan didn’t put enough on a critical shot.
Given a chance to seal things in the extra end, she put a little too much on an even more important take.
It required two measurements to determine who had scored to win it, but Morris knew right away. He walked halfway down the rink and bent at the knees in frustration. Italy won 8-7.
You felt for both of them, but Homan in particular. She was the face of the failure of the Canadian women’s team in Pyeongchang, and now this.
Afterward, she was disconsolate: “I just guessed wrong a couple of them. That’s kind of the difference.”
While she spoke, Morris gingerly put an arm around her shoulder and squeezed. Behind them volunteers cheered the arrival of the Chinese team.
The villain of the piece is, as usual, Australia.
Our two great nations have a lot in common, but when have those people ever done us a solid? This time it’s a case of no good deed being unpunished.
The Australians are not good at curling, maybe because most of them reach adulthood without ever having seen ice that isn’t in a G & T.
Morris did Australia a favour and agreed to coach their most promising young team. That pair – Tahli Gill and Dean Hewitt – made the Olympics. Australia started out by doing the honourable thing, getting steadily annihilated by their elders.
With an 0-7 overall record going into Sunday, Australia was positively wretched.
Then they were just positive. Gill returned a positive COVID-19 test and was chucked out of the tournament. A few hours later, she was reinstated by a medical board. Just in time to face a suddenly desperate Canada.
You can see where this is going. Australia won.
“ (Morris) was just like any other competitor. He has two shoes,” said Gill afterward. “He’s our coach and athlete.”
In this particular instance though, maybe a bit better coach than athlete.
The unlikely loss led to the more likely and more consequential one against Italy a few hours later.
The affable Morris started off ruminatively after Monday’s disappointment, but as the questions continued you could feel his dander getting up. He issued a boilerplate Canadian curling reminder that everyone in the world is getting better at this all the time.
“There’s no point in beating a dead horse,” Morris said. “There’s nothing more we could talk about how and why and what we lost.”
Well, maybe there’s a <ita>little<ita> more we could talk about. Certainly the how and the why.
Used to be, Canada didn’t dominate this sport in the Olympics. We owned it. There was a time when curling’s critics had womenshockeyitis – complaining the sport was so unbalanced that it should be eliminated from the Games.
Then Canada invited everyone over to our place for a few beers and a couple of pointers. Several countries took that as an invitation to move in (Australia’s Gill and Hewitt among them).
Now they are the Grasshoppers and we are the aging kung-fu master who can’t get our high kicks over our knees.
We did this to ourselves. Us, and our short-sighted embrace of human generosity.
Though it is a lot of fun to watch, mixed-doubles is the amuse bouche of Olympic curling. The serious stuff – men’s and women’s – begins Wednesday.
That’s not looking like a sure thing either. Canada hasn’t won a world championship in either discipline for a few years. Last year, Canada didn’t make the podium in either instance.
It’s not a curling crisis. Not yet. Not when more people participate in the sport in this country than the rest of the world combined. And not when playing in Canada remains the pinnacle of achievement for every curler everywhere.
But it is clearly crisis of curling confidence. A pair of champions don’t lose to a mediocre spoiler team from a microwave oven of a country because they’ve all of a sudden lost their ability to do their jobs. They do so because fear of losing has become fixed in their minds. You could absolutely see Homan tightening up in real time.
She and Morris both are too good to blow it. But nobody’s too good to choke. Seemingly, Canada has entered the Jana Notovna phase of its Olympic curling development.
The curling ethos – try hard, don’t take yourself or life too seriously – doesn’t lend itself to sports psychology, but maybe that’s what Canada needs now.
Or even better, just throw out a competitor who doesn’t think about curses or being at the Olympics or what’s happening on the scoreboard. Someone who wins because they curl like a Canadian. And what Canadians do at curling is win.
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