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Olympic curlers warm up at Continental Cup

Before the pressure of the Olympics takes hold, many of curling's top teams are staying loose at this week's star-studded, but lighthearted, Continental Cup.

Lighthearted event features 10 teams headed to Pyeongchang

After some much-needed vacation, Rachel Homan, right, and her teammates are ready to get cracking on their Olympic preparation, starting at the Continental Cup. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

LONDON, ONT. — When fans step inside the arena this weekend for the Continental Cup of Curling, they'll be met by a who's who in the sport.

Ten of the 12 teams on the ice are heading to the Olympics in three weeks, including Canada's Team Homan and Team Koe.

"This is a perfect event for us to be playing," said Kevin Koe. "It's not the most serious event but at the same time we're here to win."

Koe is part of a larger team this week, Team North America, taking on Team World. Four of the rinks playing for North America are going to the Olympics, and all six playing for Team World teams are too. That includes Sweden's Nik Edin, who is regarded by many as Koe's top competition in the men's tournament next month in South Korea. 

This is the 14th instalment of the Continental Cup. a lighthearted competition with more camaraderie between teams than the typical tournament. The event features traditional team curling, mixed doubles, an individual skills competition and skins games. Over the years, North America has dominated.

For Koe and his team, it's their first competition since winning the Canadian Olympic trials last month. After that, they completely stepped away from the game to recharge.

"Now that it's January, that's over with now and it's time to start building to the Games," Koe said. "For us, it's about playing well and building our confidence over the next couple of weeks leading into the Olympics."

Rachel Homan did the same. In fact, most of her team escaped the ice and headed south for a vacation. Homan spent some time in Hawaii before returning back to Canada to play in this event.

"We just started back up again. We've been practising individually and took some time off," she said. "We couldn't have prepared like crazy for this because we couldn't sustain that level for six or seven weeks into the Olympics."

Edin gains confidence

There will undoubtedly be massive pressure on the Canadian curlers at the Olympics. Canada has won a medal in every tournament since the sport was brought back to the Olympic program in 1998. 

Over the years, however, there's been a shift in the sport. At prior Games, there might have been three or four teams who could realistically challenge for gold. Now there's more depth, which is evident in the Continental Cup field.

Many of the international teams credit Canada for their success. Take Edin's rink. Two years ago, they relocated to Ottawa for the year so they could maximize their time in a competitive setting and play in as many bonspiels as possible. It's done wonders for their confidence.

"We know we can beat them and they know we can beat them," Edin said of his Canadian rivals.

Sweden's Nik Edin is among the talented international skips who will challenge Canada's Kevin Koe for Olympic gold. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press )

In Sweden, the Olympic curling teams are selected by a committee based on world rankings and results over the course of four years. So, unlike in Canada, where teams have to qualify by winning a highly competitive trials tournament, Edin was hand-picked to represent his country. 

"For good and for bad, we don't have that many good teams in our country," he said. 

Scouting the competition

Curling great Rick Lang is a coach for North America at the Continental Cup. He's also going to be a team leader for Canada at the Olympics. 

He's using this event to keep a close eye on the competition the Canadians will be up against in South Korea.

"I have a front-row view of what's going on out there," he said. "You might see them doing something here or there."

Lang thinks this is the perfect event for the Canadian curlers heading to the Games because it serves as practice time in an arena setting but at the same time isn't pressure-packed.

"I don't mind the timing of this. It's a chance for them to get out there and let their hair down a bit and actually enjoy the game for a change," he said.

Lang was in Sochi four years ago with Jennifer Jones and Brad Jacobs, watching their two teams win double gold for Canada. 

Now, as the Games loom, can Canada do it again?

"The answer to that is absolutely," Lang said. "But the world is coming and is coming strong and hard."

About the Author

Devin Heroux

CBC reporter

Devin Heroux reports for CBC News and Sports. He is now based in Toronto, after working first for the CBC in Calgary and Saskatoon.

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