It started off so well. Canada’s Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris captured gold in the first-ever mixed doubles Olympic curling event. The dream of a Canadian curling podium sweep was alive and well in South Korea.
Then it all went sideways — fast.
There will be no Canadian curling summit, like there was for hockey during its downturn, but there will be some serious introspection after Canada’s disappointing curling performance at the Olympics.
Both Rachel Homan’s Kevin Koe’s teams failed to reach the podium. Before this, every Canadian curling had left the Olympics with a medal since the sport was reintroduced to the program in 1998.
“This has been an emotional roller coaster for myself and for Canadians who have been watching us,” said Katherine Henderson, the CEO of Curling Canada.
Henderson said that, while the sting of these Games will last a while, there isn’t much the organization would have changed in terms of preparation.
“We are a sport that has produced medal after medal, world champion after world champion. I would characterize this as a bit of an aberration in our system,” she said.
“I’m not sure you’re going to see massive changes in our system. I think what you might see is a conversation about what’s going on in the rest of the curling world. I think the wake-up call is the world is catching up to us.”
Canadian women have won only two of the last 10 world championships. The men have won six of the last 10. Results on the Grand Slam tour also suggest international teams are hanging with the Canadians shot for shot.
Curling Canada has a full review planned in April to go over what it thought worked and what didn’t work during this Olympic cycle.
Koe’s lead, Ben Hebert, didn’t mince words about his team’s play in South Korea.
“That was brutal. I thought yesterday was rock bottom and today is proving to be worse,” Hebert said after losing to Switzerland in the bronze-medal game a day after falling to the U.S. in the semifinals. “It taints the Olympic experience.”
Hebert and Marc Kennedy won Olympic gold in 2010 — they went undefeated with skip Kevin Martin in Vancouver.
But here, it was a different story. They lost the bronze-medal game. They lost twice to the United States. That had never happened even once before for a Canadian curling team at the Olympics.
“There’s no way to sugarcoat it,” Hebert said. “We were prepared. We practised. We said all the right things and when it came down to it our execution was brutal.”
Homan’s team struggled too, failing to even make the playoffs. They tried to rally after starting the tournament 0-3, climbing all the way back to even their record at 3-3. But two crucial back-to-back losses to China and Great Britain sealed their fate.
The team was coming off a dream season. They won the Scotties. They went undefeated to win the world championship. Then Team Homan earned the right to wear the maple leaf in South Korea by winning the Canadian trials in their hometown of Ottawa. The script was going according to plan — then suddenly, on the biggest stage, it wasn’t.
“I feel disappointed. This was not the Olympics we wanted to have,” lead Lisa Weagle said. “We had some really great games and a shot here or there was the difference.”
As shocking as the Canadians’ performances were, they opened up space for other teams to make their own curling history.
The United States, skipped by John Shuster, won gold for the first time. Sweden’s Nik Edin had his best finish ever with a silver. And Switzerland captured bronze.
On the women’s side, Sweden continued its dominance by winning its third gold in the last four Olympics. The Korean women’s team made history by winning the country’s first curling medal, a silver, in front of a boisterous and proud home crowd. The Japanese also had their best finish ever with a bronze.
Canada’s losses were the rest of the world’s gain.
“Humble pie is something that’s really hard to eat,” said Paul Webster, Curling Canada’s high-performance coach.
“It sends a strong message to our teams that we’ve got work to do.”