Karlee Burgess remembers the first time Canada’s mixed curling time met on the road to the Lillehammer 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games.
It was in Montreal last April when two teenaged girls from Chester, Nova Scotia, on Canada’s Atlantic shore, met two boys from Fort St John, British Columbia, which is four time zones away, for their initial gathering.
“It felt cool because we all knew we were going to represent Canada,’’ she said. “But we were all a little shy because we did not know what to expect.”
“There were some nerves that first time. We had never met the girls before but we got to know each other more and got confidence in each other,’’ added Sterling Middleton.
Less than a year later, the Canadians scored five points in the first end en route to a 10-4 victory over the United States to claim the Youth Olympic Games gold medal in mixed curling.
Switzerland won bronze thanks to its 11-3 rout of Russia.
Philipp Hoesli of Switzerland in action during the bronze-medal match of mixed curling at Lillehammer 2016. Photo: YIS / IOC Thomas Lovelock
The way the mixed teams from all corners of the international curling map were formed for the Lillehammer Games defies conventional curling wisdom.
In the conventional world of curling, teenaged girls play with girls and boys with boys. They never share the same sheet of ice in competition.
Mixed curling is unique to the Youth Games, although mixed doubles curling is set to make its debut at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeonchang, Republic of Korea.
Usually it takes years for championship teams to gel, to develop the chemistry on the rink and the confidence it takes to win.
Not at the Youth Olympic Games, however, where time is not on your side.
Some teams meet up months before, while for some it’s mere weeks before.
“It is interesting,’’ said the USA’s Cait Flannery. “You have to adapt to each other and be careful about how you respond to [a new teammate’s] shots and make sure you are not upsetting them or causing conflict.
“When you are just with a girls’ team or a guys’ team, you have multiple years to figure that our and it is sometimes much easier with time.”
Starting in April 2015, the Canadians got together once a month to prepare for Lillehammer 2016, and the played a handful of tournaments before boarding their flight for Norway in February.
The Canadian girls – Burgess and Fay – play on the same team in their hometown and recently won the highly competitive Canadian junior championships. Next stop for them is the world junior championship in Denmark.
The USA team took a similar route. Coach Tom Violette was already working with the two boys on his team when he scoured the USA for two girls, and found Cora Farrell in Fairbanks, Alaska, about a year ago.
And the USA curlers had a handful of competitions as a team before they crossed the Atlantic to the Youth Olympic Games.
“It is a real challenge,’’ said Violette about assembling a team. “Personality and chemistry have to come together and normally that takes a lot of work. You have to have that trust. That chemistry has to be there, and we were lucky.”
Russia coach Olga Andranova said his mixed foursome had a handful of training sessions along with playing one bonspiel [curling tournament] before coming to the Youth Games. “We did have not have a lot of time for preparations,” Andranova said.
Henwy Lochmann of Switzerland said he and his teammates had some training in preparation, but the Youth Games marked their competition debut.
“I think all of us had the same goal. We want to play together, we want to work together and it was very nice,” he said.
The fact that you can throw teenagers from all corners of their respective homelands and have them chase the same goal, some with a lot or a little preparation, speaks volumes about how these athletes handle challenges.
‘’The level of maturity that all four have is pretty incredible,’’ said Canada coach Helen Radford.
“We just clicked right from the start,’’ added Burgess.
Written by YIS / IOC Alan Adams
Alan Adams is a reporter for the Lillehammer Youth Information Service ‘YIS’. Based in Toronto, Canada, he has covered sports since the mid-1980s including covering five Winter Olympic Games.