PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE, Man. — From Portage la Prairie to Pyeongchang.
About 90 kilometres down the highway from where Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris were born in Winnipeg, the two realized their Olympic dreams for a second time on Sunday.
And perhaps they were always supposed to be playing on a team together. After all, Morris and Lawes were both born on December 16, Morris in 1978 and Lawes 10 years later in 1988.
Morris and Lawes defeated Brad Gushue and Val Sweeting 8-6 in the first-ever mixed doubles Olympic trials final.
“I feel like I’m a little more in shock this time,” Lawes said after the win. “We were always Olympians and now we’re two-time Olympians.”
Lawes won gold as a third on Jennifer Jones’ team in 2014, and now becomes the first-ever two-time female Olympian curler for Canada.
Morris won Olympic gold in 2010 as a third for Kevin Martin’s team.
“I was so lucky to go to Vancouver for the Olympics and now this. It’s going to be so cool and I feel so honoured.”
While Morris was born in Winnipeg, he only spent the first couple of years of his life there before moving to Ottawa.
The two had family in friends in the crowd cheering on their every shot and when it was all over, there was Lawes’ mom, Cheryl, ready to hand over a Canadian flag for her and Morris to drape themselves in.
“It’s a dream to be able to play in front of our friends and family,” Lawes said. “I’m so lucky that I had my mom and boyfriend’s family and friends come out and watch. That support is something I’ll never forget.”
Saving their best for last
There was a point in the week when it looked like Lawes and Morris would miss the playoffs. They had a 2-3 record after five games and were struggling with communication at times. But the two fierce competitors came together when they needed it most to complete their magical run.
“We kept having the faith,” Morris said. “I just got really lucky that Kaitlyn was available. I knew we would make a great combo. We’ve been good friends and she’s a heck of a shot-maker.”
This was only the second time Lawes and Morris had played mixed doubles together. Morris normally plays with Rachel Homan, but when her team won the trials last month, he was left scrambling to find a partner with just weeks to spare.
“Kaitlyn was my first choice,” he said.
The two practised together only once before these pressure-packed trials — for about a half hour at the Granite Curling Club in Winnipeg.
“The goal was to try and get back there one way or the other,” Lawes said. “Right now this is an absolute dream come true.”
Sting of defeat
While it’ll be the second time for both Lawes and Morris heading to the Olympics, it’s also doubly stinging for Gushue and Sweeting.
Both of their teams had their Olympic dreams dashed last month in Ottawa at the trials.
And then this.
“It sucks right now for sure,” Gushue said. “Val played so well. And I just kept putting her in pressure situations.”
After the loss Gushue was critical of his play, specifically pointing to what he calls a “strategic error” in the fourth end leading to four massive points for Lawes and Morris and the turning point of the game.
“It wasn’t my best today,” he said.
Gushue has already won Olympic gold — but Sweeting hasn’t even made it to the Games. The pain of defeat was visibly evident as the Alberta skip fought back tears after the game.
“We didn’t give up and it just wasn’t our day out there. I’m proud of us,” she said.
Gushue so badly wanted to play a key role in getting Sweeting that Olympic opportunity.
“That’s what I’m most disappointed about. She’s deserving of putting a maple leaf on her back and I think my play today caused her not to have that.”
Both Lawes and Morris say all they want to do right now is get some physiotherapy and rest. This mixed doubles game is mentally and physically exhausting.
“I’ve never swept so much in my life,” Morris said. “I can’t wait to get some physio done on my shoulder.”
But they won’t be able to rest for long. Curling Canada has mapped out what every day looks like for them from now until the Olympics. Despite the aches and pains, the thrill of victory diminishes any soreness the two might be feeling.
“It’s an honour any time you get to wear the maple leaf at the Olympic Games,” Lawes said. “It’s so rare so to do a second time.”
Canada has medaled at each Olympics since curling was reintroduced in 1998.
This is the first time mixed doubles is being featured at the Olympics. Canada has never won gold at a mixed doubles world championship, and so now the weight of those lofty expectations intensifies.
“We’re Canadian and we’re curlers so we’re expected to bring home the gold,” Morris said.
Beginning one month from now, we’ll find out if they can come through.