It’s a long haul, to be away. The things that we sacrifice, to do what we love. And I miss my girls, and my husband, and my parents. And, you know, it’s tough.
And when you are struggling, like I am, you want those hugs.
Canada’s Kerri Einarson spoke those words to the media after losing to the United States to fall to 1-4. There was no television or webstream coverage due to positive test results among the broadcast crew.
On Monday morning the team suffered another loss—to three-player Germany, by a 6-2 count. No matter that the Germans, hobbled by positive test cases of their own, were on fire and shot the lights out—92% for skip Daniela Jentsch. For the Canadians, things are quickly going from bad to worse.
Any world championship is a grind, and this one is taking place during a pandemic.
Einarson and her squad kicked off the bubble way back in February, and excelled early on to win the Canadian title. Then came a surprise win for the skip in mixed doubles. That was followed by two Grand Slam events, where her team captured one trophy and made the semifinals in the other.
That’s a lot of winning, which means a lot of things happening in your favor. A lot.
Now the wheels are coming off. The ice is different, trickier. Late-game misses, like Canada’s shot for the win against Sweden in their opening draw, can cast a haunting shadow. Opponents, always training to peak against the Canadians, can smell blood.
Despite some recent curling history, I’m sure the Canadian coaches don’t quite know what to do or say. Just like they probably didn’t know what to say to the Rachel Homan team during their struggles at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang.
Canadian coaches aren’t used to this sort of thing. Most of the time, their players aren’t used to this sort of thing.
My coach, the legendary Paul Savage, tried his best to cattle-prod us during the fifth-end break of our Olympic final in 1998. He must have been horrified.
We’d gone 6-1 leading up to the final, outscoring our opponents 67-33, including a 7-1 whitewash of the U.S. in the semi (it was actually 8-0; ask me about it sometime).
Now he’d seen us go down 6-1 in the first five ends of the gold medal game, and we couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn door.
He opened with a fiery rah-rah speech, perhaps in an attempt to jumpstart us back to life. I remember just staring at him, because I was shell-shocked. I’ve always wondered what he saw when he looked into our eyes.
It turned out our skip had pneumonia, and that’s a fairly well-known factoid. What isn’t known is that Savage and Canada’s chief coaching mandarin had been talking about taking drastic action—like Savage coming into the game for the sixth end, and third Rich Hart moving up to skip position. That decision, while discussed, wasn’t made as the damage had already been done.
A year later I was in Saint John, N.B. for the combined men’s and women’s world championships. Canada’s Jeff Stoughton lost the final to Scotland’s Hammy McMillan but the real story was the struggle of the Canadian women’s team. Colleen Jones and her new foursome would go on to win two world titles—and world silver— in the early 2000s.
Nothing went right at that first world championship. On the morning of their opening match, their van driver overslept, forcing the team to grab a last-minute taxi. They had to throw practice rocks with assorted brushes as their broom bag was locked in the driver’s van.
In their third game against Japan, a fan had to point out that Canada’s time clock was down to four minutes. The Canadians rushed through the end and Japan beat Canada for the first time in women’s world play.
In their last game against Denmark, Jones had to win or Canada might be forced to play a challenge series to qualify for the 2000 worlds—plus the team might miss out on some $60,000 in Sport Canada funding. Who told them this? Not their coaching staff … it was Jones’ husband and members of the media.
The Jones gang won the game 9-5 to finish in a three-way tie for fifth place at 4-5. It was only the second time a Canadian women’s team had missed the playoffs. The first? Jones, with a different team, back in 1982.
“I haven’t seen them (social media comments),” said Einarson yesterday. “I’ve been staying off social media at all costs. But I really, truly appreciate everyone’s support. It’s been unbelievable and … it’s not easy being out here. So we’re just pushing through every chance we get, and (we) keep fighting.”
Speaking of Richard Hart, he and our old skipper Mike Harris appeared on a recent episode of Kevin Palmer’s excellent Rock Logic: CSI podcast. The three of them analyzed the ninth end of our Olympic Trials final against Kevin Martin. The episode is interesting enough—due to those big personalities—but the last seven minutes are off-topic and fascinating.
First off, Harris said the 1997-98 Olympic season represented his peak level of motivation. After battling for so many years to win the “big game” and finally accomplishing that, he lost interest. This may be his first public admission of what he has privately acknowledged.
Hart then went on a rant about pressure, tearing down the belief that an Olympic Trials final is more of a pressure cooker any other curling game.
“It’s not like your body or your mind knows the difference between the Olympic Trials and the Brier final, or the provincial final, or—by the way—a bonspiel final,” said Hart. It’s the same pressure.”
“I think when you try to understand what’s going through the heads of all these athletes, the pressure they feel is with their teammates, with themselves,” said Harris. “At the end of the day you don’t want to let down your friends, that’s the bottom line.”
“You had referenced the weight of your country,” said Hart. “You’re not playing for your country. First of all, you’re playing for yourself; you don’t want to embarrass yourself, you want to play great. Second of all, you might play for your teammates. You want to have an amazing performance for them.
“That’s the only pressure. Playing for your country is about fifth down the line after performing for yourself and your teammates.”
Interesting thinking. Hart won Olympic silver, a world title, a Brier championship and lost four Brier finals, so his words should carry some weight.
It’s not necessarily difficult to visualize this. Team Kerri Einarson is struggling, the skip in particular, and she wants to do better for herself and her teammates. Canada is a secondary consideration (or as far back as fifth in line, if you believe Hart).
But what would Einarson’s coaches think about that? Their job is to help produce podium placements—medals—plus there’s the 2022 Olympic berth to consider.
This long event in a long week at the end of a three-month-long bubble isn’t over yet, but given Einarson’s struggles, Team Bottcher’s recent sixth-place at the men’s worlds, Chelsea Carey’s eighth-place world finish in 2019 and the two missed Olympic podiums in 2018, Canada’s coaches might need to restock their tool box for the future.