Rosie DiManno: Canadian curling pair Morris and Lawes add gold to the mix

Rosie DiManno: Canadian curling pair Morris and Lawes add gold to the mix
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Martin Rios’ answer kind of rambled and then came to a wobbly halt — rather like some of the stones he threw at the gold medal mixed doubles match Tuesday evening.

The sport had its come-to-Jesus moment at the Nagano Games, suddenly finding an enthusiastic global viewing audience among non-rockheads.

But John Morris picked up ball smoothly — just like he’d handled the stones.

“We would accept a challenge from Mr. T. Not an arm-wrestling challenge but maybe a mixed doubles curling challenge, if he’s around.”

I don’t know about putting a 20-kilogram hunk of granite in Mr. T’s hands. He might enjoy the “social” aspect of the sport, though, which Morris emphasized.

“We have some very good traditions in the game which I think are in line with a lot of the Olympic values, which are fair play and ethical. At the end of the day, if you have a hard match with an opponent, it’s a curling tradition to go and share a drink after the game.”

Curlers’ on-ice banter a hit with fans

Good chance Rios and partner Jenny Perret — reigning world champions in the mixed doubles discipline that is enjoying its inaugural Olympics inclusion — were crying into their beers late last night, Canadian shout at the bar as the Scots say. Because Morris and Kaitlyn Lawes just smoked ‘em, a 10-3 thrashing, conceded with a handshake after six ends, making them the first MD duo to smackdown cop an Olympic gold.

Really, it was all but over in the third end, Lawes adroitly curling a tap for four, putting Canada up 6-2 after the teams had traded deuces in the first two ends. The Swiss were throwing up bricks, especially in the third end when Rios hurled an attempted hit through the rings, missing everything on a poor angle line. Morris made a hit and roll to lay five, then Lawes finessed a delicate raise with Canada’s last stone, scoring quadruple points.

Mixed doubles may be less offensively stagnant than the team event, more conducive to rallies closing the gap, but the Canadians proved themselves masters of defence too, choking off any comeback gambit. The Swiss, after a long ponder, tried setting up for a multi-point end in the six, with a mess of stones in the house, but a wow shot by Lawes resulted in a steal for two and that’s all she wrote.

“One of our best assets was playing power-play defence,” said Morris, the 39-year-old firefighter from Calgary. “The power play is a chance to get multiple points and it really favours the team with the hammer. Our power-play defence all week was fantastic. Kaitlyn made most of her first shots and we really didn’t let the opposition score big points on the power play. If you can do that you’re going to win a lot of games. That’s where our defence really shone through.”

He calls her Mighty Mouse. “She goes about a buck-ten, five feet tall, but she can sweep better than a lot of men out there. And she makes clutch shots. It’s been a privilege and an honour to play with her.”

That, coupled with Morris’ shotmaking savvy, goes a long way toward explaining their 70-33 scoring tally over the tournament, dropping only their opener of the round-robin stage, going 7-1.

Both Morris and Lawes are previous gold medal Olympians in the team event — Lawes was third for the Jennifer Jones rink that won in Sochi; Morris was vice for Kevin Martin when they took the team title in Vancouver.

Each was disappointed when their teams failed to qualify for Pyeongchang. Morris said he’d hung his tail between his legs for a couple of days, then perked up for a second shot at the Games as Lawes’ partner. They’d played MD together in the Continental Cup years back but, at the Olympic mixed doubles qualifier in January, had only 30 minutes to train as a combo before getting it on. On that occasion, they’d fallen to 2-3 before righting themselves.

“The thing for us is that when we were two and three, we really didn’t feel like we were playing that badly,” recalled Lawes, the 29-year-old from Winnipeg, of the trials in Portage la Prairie. “We just weren’t getting the breaks. We wanted to make sure that we hung tough and continued to learn. We didn’t let that frustrate us. Same thing here when we lost our first game. We didn’t think we were playing that poorly. We just had to figure out a way to improve a couple of percentage points each game.”

And they discovered they were mucho simpatico.

Lawes added: “For me, was in that semifinal game.” Dumped Norway 8-4. “I was really struggling the first half. John just reassured me that we have to be patient, we’ll find a way to make those shots. He gave me the confidence to make those last shots, to not give up on yourself. I’m really lucky that John brought out the best in me.”

At the Gangneung Curling Centre — with IOC president Thomas Bach looking on — the Canadians were clearly the crowd favourite, although it should be noted that the Swiss tandem did earn their country’s first medal of these Games while Canada made it 10: Three gold, four silver, three bronze.

Still, at times it sounded like Morris and Lawes were trying to convince their journo audience of the merit of mixed doubles.

“Asseyez-vous!” Morris urged a francophone correspondent. “Because it’s so much fun and it’s easy to catch the bug.”

Lawes: “It’s harder than it looks.”

In any event, they are the first two Canadians to win gold in curling at the Winter Olympics twice. That’s rad.

“It sounds surreal,” said Lawes, “and I don’t know if that’s ever going to sink in. The first one still hasn’t.”
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