Canada gets shut out of Olympic medals in team curling in Pyeongchang

The Canadian Press
Canada gets shut out of Olympic medals in team curling in Pyeongchang
Canada gets shut out of Olympic medals in team curling in Pyeongchang

PYEONGCHANG, Korea, Republic Of — When Canada didn't win an Olympic men's hockey medal in 1998 with its NHL stars, it sparked national-soul searching and a hockey summit.

The questions around Canada getting shut out of team curling medals in Pyeongchang, South Korea, are eerily similar to 20 years ago.

Is curling's historically dominant power too generous by sharing its expertise, lending its coaches and opening its domestic competition to rivals at its own expense?

Perhaps, but that's not prime reason curling teams skipped by Kevin Koe and Rachel Homan are going home without a medal, according to Koe third Marc Kennedy.

"I know after results like this people are going to reflect on what went wrong, but I think at the end of the day it just comes down to individual performances and stepping up at the most difficult event in the world," Kennedy said Friday.

Koe lost 7-5 to Switzerland's Peter de Cruz for the bronze medal Friday. Homan's Ottawa foursome didn't make the playoffs with a 4-5 record.

It's the first time since curling returned to the Winter Games in '98 that Canadian teams didn't finish on the podium in both the men's and women's events.

Canada wasn't shut out of all curling medals, however, as Ottawa's John Morris and Winnipeg's Kaitlyn Lawes won mixed doubles gold in the discipline's Olympic debut.

Morris became the first men's curler to win two gold after earning an Olympic title with Kevin Martin in 2010.

Lawes also won a second curling gold after winning the women's Olympic championship with Jennifer Jones in 2014.

Canadian men at the Winter Olympics won silver in 1998 (Mike Harris) and 2002 (Martin) before three straight gold: Brad Gushue (2006); Martin (2010); and Brad Jacobs (2014).

Canadian women won gold in 1998 (Sandra Schmirler), bronze in 2002 (Kelley Law) and 2006 (Shannon Kleibrink) and gold in 2014 (Jones).

Instead of plowing resources into one or two teams like some countries do to prepare for the Winter Games, Curling Canada relies on its depth — with almost 1,000 curling clubs across the country — and a survival-of-the-fittest approach to determine its Olympic representatives.

Koe and Homan had to beat trials fields that included 2014 Olympic champions Jacobs and Jones to wear the Maple Leaf in Pyeongchang.

"History shows you it's worked," Koe said. "At this event, maybe people will start to think otherwise, but we were ready, we were playing well.

"No matter when we would have been chosen, we felt great coming in here and had great preparation. Unfortunately for us, we just didn't play our best games in the playoffs. It'll take some time to get over the sting of losing and not winning a medal."

Kennedy, who played second with Martin and Morris in 2010, and Canadian four-time world champion Glenn Howard both observed that the Olympic fields in Pyeongchang were far more competitive than they were eight years ago in Vancouver.

"We could have used a few more misses this week if teams were a little bit crappier, but they're not," Kennedy said.

"They're damn good and they've learned how to win and it's tough to keep up. (But) we're only a shot or two away from talking about another gold medal."

The United States will play for Olympic men's gold for the first time as John Shuster — who beat Canada twice in Pyeongchang — faces Sweden's Niklas Edin on Saturday.

Host South Korea, Japan, Sweden and Britain reached the women's playoffs.

Countries with smaller curling populations are still at a disadvantage to Canada, Koe insisted. 

"A lot of these countries have one good team. I couldn't even tell you another good team from Sweden or Switzerland, no disrespect to the other teams," he explained. "They focus on one team and those teams do well.

"To say all these countries are at the level of Canada, I don't think that's accurate."

The only solace Kennedy could find was that Shuster playing in the gold-medal game will get the attention of a large television and sponsorship market in the United States.

And Las Vegas is the host city of the men's world curling championship in April.

"The one side is we want the sport to grow around the world and U.S.A. making the gold-medal final might be the best thing that ever happened to curling," Kennedy observed.

"It might not be the best thing that ever happens to Canadian curling."

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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