A fairy-tale first for Canadian curling
The inaugural curling mixed doubles event at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 was won by an ad hoc yet rock solid pairing of two Winnipeg-born Canadian Olympic champions, Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris. After a loss to Norway in the event's opening fixture, the Canadians dominated Switzerland's Jenny Perret and Martin Rios in the final. Lawes and Morris are the first Canadian Olympic doubles curling champions in history.
They were born on the same day, in the same place, but not in the same year. Fate brought the two Winnipeg natives (Manitoba Province) together at the PyeongChang 2018 Games to win the first gold medal in curling mixed doubles, one of the four new events introduced during this edition of the Winter Games.
Half an hour of training
Canada dominates the sport at international level, but, curiously, has never won the world title in mixed doubles in the ten years it has been contested since 2008. For the first appearance of the event on the Olympic programme, Canada decided to select its team through trials held in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. John Morris, a very experienced player, normally pairs with Rachel Homan, who had just been selected as captain of Canada's women's team for PyeongChang. Left without a partner, John decided to call on an old friend, Kaitlyn Lawes. They were both born on 16 December in Manitoba, John in 1978 and Kaitlyn in 1988. Before defeating the other candidates in the first step of their Olympic journey, the pair had trained together for only half an hour in Winnipeg, their home town. "I had already played with her in the Continental Cup," John recalled. "We've been good friends and she's a heck of a shot-maker."
Kaitlyn Lawes, gold in 2014 dedicated to her father
Kaitlyn certainly did not lack experience before teaming up with John. It was family tradition that led her to start curling at the age of four. As team captain, she had an exceptional junior career, winning two national titles in 2008 and 2009, and two consecutive World Championship medals, bronze then silver. Her first national title was particularly significant because she won it a few months after the death of her father, which had led her to consider ending her curling career. In the end, she found the strength to continue her journey. From 2011, she joined the team captained by Jennifer Jones as a third, and the results quickly began to stack up at national level. In 2013, the team was selected for the 2014 Sochi Games, where they would go on to put in an exceptional performance. The Canadians got through the round robin phase undefeated and became the first team to be crowned Olympic champions without losing a single match. "I thought about my dad a lot during the tournament," Kaitlyn revealed. "He was my inspiration."
The title with Kevin Martin in 2010 for John Morris
John also grew up with the sport. His father, Earle Morris, is the inventor of the curling “Stabiliser”, used by a large number of players. Soon after John's birth in Manitoba, the Morris family moved to Ottawa (Ontario), where John quickly demonstrated his talent for curling. He was enormously successful at junior level, even winning the Junior World Championship title twice as captain. He continued his career at Wilfried Laurier University in Ontario. His sport then took him to Calgary (Alberta), but it was his next move, joining Kevin Martin's team, that would prove particularly fruitful. Following successes at national level, the team represented Canada at the World Championships in Grand Forks in 2008, where they beat Scotland in the final to take the title. In 2009, they earned the honour of representing their country on Canadian soil at the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games the following year. They gave their home fans plenty to cheer about by dominating the round robin phase and winning the Olympic title 6-3 against a Norwegian team skipped by Thomas Ulsrud.
The Korean gold
After the hard-earned victory in the Canadian trials, Kaitlyn and John headed to Korea full of ambition. The tournament began even before the Opening Ceremony. The rapid format, with six stones instead of eight in each end, left the potential for scorelines to quickly swing in the favour of one team, as was the case when the Canadian duo lost to Norway in their first match. But from this point on, the team's performance was flawless. Their teamwork and talent led them to take six wins in a row in the round robin phase. In the semi-finals, a second meeting with Norway ended in a comfortable victory of 8-4 to the Canadians. They met Switzerland – holders of the World Championship title – in the final, and very quickly asserted their dominance. Switzerland's Martin Rios made a mistake in the third end and Kaitlyn took the opportunity to secure four points. The Swiss pair, unable to come back, were forced to accept defeat at 10-3 after six ends. Canada became the first team to win mixed doubles curling at the Winter Games and Kaitlyn and John became the first Canadian Olympic doubles curling champions of all time.