Curling can sometimes be a fickle sport and just because you are one of the world’s elite curlers does not mean you will always be able to generate a peak performance on demand. Team Canada’s Kaitlyn Lawes faced that reality in her team’s semi-final game against Norway and it took patience, an experienced partner and some personal resilience to help her find her form in time to lead Canada to the gold medal game.
To anyone looking at the scoreboard following the semi-final between Canada and Norway, it looked like Canada had played extremely well and won convincingly. What the scoreboard didn’t show was that, despite a 3-2 lead at the 4th end break, three misses by Kaitlyn Lawes in the first half of the game kept Canada from an early 5 or 6 point lead. Lawes played brilliantly all week but seemed to be struggling with her rocks, and her confidence, shooting under 50% over the first half of the game. In stepped her veteran teammate John Morris who apparently pushed all the right buttons during that 4th end break including a brief mid-game interview with Canadian broadcaster CBC where he basically told the interviewer and the nation: “…relax, it’s an eight-end game, Kaitlyn is a terrific player and we’ll figure it out.” Whatever Morris told his partner certainly appeared to help as Lawes found her form in the 2nd half of the game including a delicate tap-back for three in the 7th end that gave Canada an 8-4 lead they would not relinquish allowing both players, and a country, to breathe a little easier.
After the game, Morris told the assembled media, “…it was a high-pressure game but I love playing those games. In mixed doubles, you’ve got to play a full eight ends. I wasn’t sweating when we were missing a few chances in the first four ends. I’ve got nothing but faith in Kaitlyn, she’s been an outstanding shooter and I just knew if I kept giving her chances she would make them, and she did.”
The other semi-final was a battle between the two most recent world champions as Switzerland faced the OAR. The two teams played evenly over the first half of the game with Switzerland taking a 4-2 lead by stealing a point in the 4th end when the OAR threw their last rock away, avoiding the possibility of giving up more than one stolen point. Bryzgalova and Krushelnitckii responded quickly in the second half by scoring two points in the 5th end to tie the game and then stealing a point of their own in the 6th end to take a 5-4 lead. The reigning world champions responded in the 7th by scoring two points and earned a spot in the gold medal final when the OAR missed a draw in the 8th end that would have forced an extra-end.
After the game, Martin Rios of Switzerland said that he was not nervous prior to the semi-final and gave credit to his teammate Jenny Perret for her performance, “…I was really calm during that game, calmer than in all the seven games of the round-robin, I don’t know why…I made a couple of mistakes in five and six but in the end, Jenny was there when the pressure was on, a big credit to her.”
The gold medal final will offer an interesting microcosm of the ongoing debate on whether an experienced team of “mixed doubles specialists” has the edge over a mixed doubles team formed of elite curlers that have less experience in mixed doubles. The Swiss team of Perret and Rios are the reigning world champions and have been one of the top teams in the world for a few seasons while the team of Lawes and Morris, both Olympic champions in women’s and men’s play, was formed in mid-December, a few weeks before the Canadian Olympic Trials.
The Canadians and Swiss were the top two teams in the round-robin and both have earned their place in the final. Canada defeated Switzerland 7-2 in the round-robin, a score that is deceiving because Canada scored a four-ender in the 2nd end that broke the game open early forcing the Swiss to take more chances leading to multiple stolen ends for Canada in the second half of the game.
In the bronze medal game, Norway and the OAR will both get a second chance at securing an Olympic medal. It will be interesting to see how the OAR responds in this game as they have proven to be the more emotional of the two teams throughout the round-robin. If the OAR starts well, it could easily propel them to victory but if they start poorly, the bronze medal game could be over quickly.