Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris show off their gold medals after winning the Mixed Doubles Curling Trials final over Brad Gushue and Val Sweeting in Portage la Prairie Sunday. (Aaron Wilgosh/The Graphic)
Ted Wyman - Winnipeg Sun
A month ago, Kaitlyn Lawes was giving no thought whatsoever to mixed doubles curling.
The 29-year-old from Winnipeg was competing in the Canadian women’s curling trials in Ottawa as the third for Jennifer Jones and was focused on getting back to the Olympics in the traditional fashion, just four years after winning a gold medal in Sochi.
When her team lost in the semifinal, it was devastating. Equally hard to handle was watching rival Rachel Homan win it all and punch a ticket to PyeongChang.
Little did she know that Homan win was about to change her life.
Because Homan qualified for the Olympics, she had to bow out of the Olympic mixed doubles curling trials, where she was scheduled to play with Canmore Alta.’s John Morris.
Morris immediately placed a call to Lawes and she agreed to join his team for the mixed doubles trials.
On Sunday, the pair punched a ticket to the Olympic Winter Games in South Korea by beating Val Sweeting and Brad Gushue 8-6 in the trials final at Stride Place.
What an incredible turn of events.
“It’s surreal, honestly,” Lawes said. “I’m in shock. My head is spinning. I’m so proud of our efforts this week. We had a couple of tough losses and a couple of other games we had to grind out but what an amazing journey to be able to come out on top of such an incredible field.
“It’s a dream come true. Four years ago, after Sochi, the goal was just to try and get back and I’m so proud that we’re doing this. I obviously wish I was doing this with my girls as well but what an honour to be a part of the first mixed doubles at the Olympics.”
Morris, 39, was thrilled that a player like Lawes was available to fill in for Homan. Already with an Olympic gold medal to his name — he was the third for Kevin Martin in 2010 in Vancouver — Morris saw mixed doubles as a golden opportunity to get back.
“It feels fantastic,” Morris said. “It’s been a tough year to be honest with you. You have your sights set on winning the team trials and that was our main goal coming into the year but now with this new discipline it’s such a wonderful thing for our sport. It’s fun to play, it’s really athletic and we get a lot out of it.
“I just got really lucky that Kaitlyn was available. I knew we’d make a great combo. I’ve always felt our dynamic is really good and we’re good friends and she’s a heck of a shot-maker. I felt we’d have a real good chance here. It took us a while to gel but I thought by the end of this week, we really found our groove.”
The Lawes/Morris team started out 2-3 in the round robin and was in a position where one loss would end the Olympic dream. But they won their last three round-robin games and grinded their way to several more wins in the playoffs.
They lost the 1-2 Page playoff game to Gushue and Sweeting but were the better team on Sunday, with Morris providing the muscle on big-weight shots and sweeping and Lawes showing plenty of finesse in a tight game.
Morris said the fact that it was such a grind made winning all the more gratifying.
“You bet,” he said. “I’ve never swept so much in my life. I can’t wait to just go get a little bit of physio on my shoulder and put my feet up for some rest and recovery. I was so lucky to go to the Olympics in Vancouver and now to be able to go to Korea, it’s going to be so cool just to compare the two.”
The eight-team Olympic tournament begins on Feb. 8, a day before the opening ceremony, in the coastal town of Gangneung.
It was a tough loss to swallow for Sweeting and Gushue, who played brilliantly all week but didn’t have their best game in the final.
“It sucks right now for sure.,” said Gushue, the 2006 Olympic men’s champion and reigning world men’s champ. “Val played so good and made a couple of big shots early in the game and I kept putting her in pressure situations.”
Gushue felt particularly bad for his partner, who has never won a major championship.
“In this event, there’s no money,” he said. “We’re no different than someone who came here and didn’t win a game. We’re going home with the same prize, which is nothing.
“That’s what I’m most disappointed about. Val’s deserving of putting that Maple Leaf on her back and I think my play today caused her to not have that. I certainly feel bad for not performing up to my level today.”
Sweeting had to fight through tears but she handled the defeat with tremendous class.
“I have to leave for my provincial tonight so it’s a quick turnaround,” she said. “I’m happy. I learned a lot this week, I learned a lot from Brad and the opportunity to play with him was unreal. I’m proud of us out there today. We easily could have got down on ourselves but we didn’t. The other team played really well and kudos, they made us pay for our mistakes. But we never stopped fighting. I feel so confident going into my provincials. I might be a little sore tomorrow but I feel so good. I’m happy with how the week went and I’m happy with how far we came.”