A year ago this week, the 2017 Canadian Olympic Trials took place in Ottawa. By the end of the week, the team of Rachel Homan, Emma Miskew, Joanne Courtney and Lisa Weagle had won the women’s event and the team of Kevin Koe, Marc Kennedy, Brent Laing and Ben Hebert had won the men’s event to become Olympians. It was an intense week for the curlers but also a very busy week for this podcast host covering his first Olympic Trials. As I was packing up my stuff on the media bench at the Canadian Tire Centre about an hour after the men’s final, I made the decision that I would not write a “wrap-up” blog of the event that night but that I would wait a year so that I could write a more reflective piece. The thought being that with the passing of a year, the only moments I’d remember and the thoughts I’d have on the 2017 Canadian Olympic Trials or the “Roar of the Rings” as they are also called, would be the moments and thoughts that stood out enough to stay with me for an entire year. Fast forward a year and what I remember most about the 2017 Canadian Olympic Trials are the moments…some seen by thousands in the stands and hundreds of thousands on TV while others took place in the media scrums and in/around the player’s entrance, long after spectators had left the building. Following are my memories from the 2017 Canadian Olympic Trials, one year removed:
I remember… the buzz in the building prior to the opening draw of the Trials which included a matchup between hometown favourites Team Homan and 2016 Scotties champions, Team Carey. I was at ice level during the warm-ups for that draw and the tension was palpable…three and a half years of wins, defeats, time away from family and other personal sacrifices had come down to this moment, the start of the Olympic Trials.
I remember… just how quickly people started wondering if the moment was perhaps too big for Team Homan after they lost their opening game against Team Carey. It certainly did not help that they followed their loss to Team Carey with an uninspired performance in a win against Team Tippin only to “right the ship” on Day 3 of the Trials with victories against McCarville and Englot.
I remember… the moment where the pressure of the Olympic Trials really sunk in for me. 2014 Olympic champion Brad Jacobs had a wide-open draw to the eight-foot to defeat Kevin Koe on Day 2 and he threw the rock right through the rings. The image many will remember of that moment is of Jacobs, his back turned to the rock he had just thrown, with his hands clasped behind his lowered head. In the media scrum after the game, Jacobs said: “…I have two of the best sweepers in the game and I didn’t even give them a chance to sweep, that’s on me”. An Olympic gold medalist, letting adrenaline get the best of him on the second day of the Trials, that’s what the Olympic Trials can do to curlers.
I remember… the exact moment when the pressure and grandeur of the Olympic Trials seemed to hit Casey Scheidegger. Seen by many as the dark-horse of the women’s competition, Team Scheidegger started the Trials playing really well while winning their first two games before losing a hard-fought game to Team Carey in an extra-end. In their next game against Team Jones, Scheidegger was up 7-6 with the hammer in the 10th. After Casey threw her first rock of the 10th end, they showed a close-up of her on TV and a veteran journalist turned to me and said; “…look at her, she looks like it just dawned on her that she is one shot away from beating Jennifer freakin’ Jones at the Olympic Trials, there is no way she makes this next shot.” Turns out he was right, Scheidegger missed an open hit to give up a steal of one in that end then gave up another steal in the extra-end to lose the game. Team Scheidegger would go on to win only one more game all week.
I remember… watching the world and five-time Scotties champion Cathy Overton-Clapham, her team undefeated and playing well, on the ice long after everyone had gone home one night, to match stones and work on draw weight. A reminder that there is always work to be done.
I remember… these words from Brad Gushue during the media scrum that followed a defeat which saw his team fall to 2-2 early in the week: “…if anyone understands how hard qualifying for the Olympics is, it’s me. I won the trials and Olympic gold in ’06 and haven’t even made it to the Trials since then. Someone is going to have to earn that trip to the Olympics and I think our team still has a chance to do that.” Team Gushue, the reigning world champions at the time, were arguably the best team in the world coming into the Olympics but, that’s why they play the games.
I remember… telling friends of mine that were in the crowd that a certain skip said the same thing in each media scrum no matter what questions seemed to be asked, standard cookie-cutter stuff and they thought I was exaggerating. I recorded this skip in three straight scrums and then played it for them…they couldn’t help but chuckle. The. Same. Thing. Every. Single. Time.
I remember… how the vast majority of the teams stayed in houses or hotels separate from their families during the Trials to maintain focus and typically did not visit with family and friends. The exception was following games, once most of the building had emptied, when players would come back to the area behind the end boards to spend a few moments with their kids/spouses/family. Apparently, nothing soothes a loss at the Olympic Trials like a hug from your kids.
I remember… Team McEwen, less than a year after they came this close to splitting up, playing well enough to qualify for the playoffs and then watching as Mike McEwen became the MVP of playoff weekend. McEwen made just about everything in the semi-final against Team Gushue and, truth be told, he out-curled Kevin Koe in the final and forced the eventual winner to make a difficult draw for the trip to Pyeongchang.
I remember… the performance by Team Carey, especially Chelsea Carey who led her team to an undefeated record in the round-robin and played well throughout the event despite losing her grandfather midway through the week. She may have come up a few rocks short in the final but Chelsea Carey and the rest of her team showed me a lot that week.
I remember… how unbelievably quiet the crowd got prior to Rachel Homan’s last shot of the semi-final vs Team Jones as well as the show of mutual respect between the two teams at the end of the game as the reigning Olympic champs congratulated Team Homan with hugs, something we don’t see much in curling.
I remember… filming the last rock of the women’s final on my phone and catching that moment, right after Chelsea Carey’s rock had come to rest, as Rachel Homan and Emma Miskew, teammates for half their lives, looked at each other in quiet disbelief for a second or two then jumping into each other’s arms moments after realizing their shared dream of qualifying for the Olympics had come true.
I remember… some fairly random things about the hour or so following the women’s final. I remember bumping into Team Homan’s coach Adam Kingsbury who had the look of a proud dad on his face even though he’s not that much older than the members of the team. I remember a sour looking woman appearing out of nowhere with a clipboard and little bags, she was there to get the members of Team Homan into doping control. I also remember the extended hug between Rachel Homan and her father, a hug that was a curling lifetime in the making.
I remember… seeing Jennifer Jones and Dawn McEwen, Olympic gold medalists and teammates since 2007, sitting in different parts of the arena with more stress and emotion on their faces as they watched their husbands play against each other in the men’s final than they’ve ever shown in any of their own games.
I remember… three things from the men’s final, aside from how well played it was, and they all happened within seconds of each other on the last rock of the game. I remember the crowd noise slowly reaching a crescendo as Kevin Koe’s last rock of the game was making its way down the ice, I remember Marc Kennedy rushing out to help sweep which led me to believe they might not get it there and I remember Kevin Koe’s celebratory “leap” that would have made golfer Phil Mickelson proud.
I remember… looking at Team Homan and Team Koe as they shared the podium for photos after the men’s final and thinking that Canada had two excellent representatives headed to the Olympics. Much has been said and written about what happened at those Olympics but, to this day, I maintain Canada was well represented in Pyeongchang and sometimes, shit just happens!
I’m already looking forward to the 2021 Olympic Trials.