Road To The Olympic Games

Preparing Homan, Koe is Curling Canada's No. 1 Olympic priority

Skips Rachel Homan and Kevin Koe earned well-deserved breaks after securing Olympic spots for the upcoming Winter Games in South Korea. But while they're off resting, Curling Canada is working overtime to ensure they're prepared to defend the nation’s two gold medals.

Canadian skips ready for most important event of their lives

Canadian skips Kevin Koe, left, and Rachel Homan, right, both secured Olympic spots for the upcoming Winter Games. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

It's been a little more than a week since the epic celebrations, tears and heart-stopping shots that propelled Rachel Homan, Kevin Koe and their respective teammates to the Olympics. 

Four years of sacrifice and work paid off.

So what's the first thing many of them did after it was over? They left the icy rink for the warm beach.

"We're not calling it a honeymoon," Homan laughed. "The wedding happened a year ago. We're just taking a vacation."

While she won't call it a honeymoon, it really is. Homan and her husband never took the time to kick back and enjoy married life after their wedding a year ago because the Olympic pursuit was the priority. With that taken care of, they're finally taking a break. 

But Homan isn't the only one heading south for some heat. Third, Emma Miskew, left for Jamaica and skip Kevin Koe took his family to Mexico. Others have headed back to their home cities to spend time over the holidays with family and friends. 

They're breathing easy again for the first time in a while, at least for a few days.  

But before any of them could make their great escape, Curling Canada officials were ready and waiting for the two winning teams — inundating them with information before they left Ottawa.

Kevin Koe defeated Mike McEwen 7-6 to win the Roar of the Rings men's final and advance to the 2018 Winter Olympic games. 2:07

Information overload

Team Canada's two Olympic curling teams barely had time to celebrate before they were whisked away to an Ottawa hotel for two intense days of information sharing, planning and scheduling. 

In the eyes of Curling Canada, while it's great to finally have clarity on what two teams are representing Canada at the Games, the whole new challenge of making sure Homan and Koe are best prepared is the No. 1 priority.

When curling was first introduced back into the Olympic program in 1998 there was no blueprint on how to prepare the teams for the Games. It was less about the game itself and everything outside of it, from where to stay, what to eat and how to get family and friends to the event.

Now all these years later there's a team behind the curling teams working tirelessly to mobilize into action when the Olympic squads are crowned.

"Their lives change," Rick Lang said. "It's a fun and exciting time for all of them but we want them to be prepared."

Lang is one of the high-performance coaches for Team Canada. He's no stranger to winning. Lang has won three Briers and two world championships. Now it's his job to help Canada win medals at the Olympics, with the emphasis on gold. 

"We have to medal. We don't soften that for the teams. We talk about it out loud. We say let's make it gold and I think that's the best way to go about it," Lang said.

Nolan Theissen is also a part of the Curling Canada team helping to make the preparation into the Olympics as smooth as possible. Theissen also has a lengthy curling resume including three Brier titles and a world championship. He's a team consultant, which basically means he's on call for the athletes around the clock should they have any questions. 

"I'm just there for the athletes," he said. "We need to try and stay ahead because other countries aren't sitting there saying 'we're playing for silver'. They want gold. We want gold."

This robust Curling Canada team signals just how serious this country is about capturing gold at the Games. And it's not the only thing they're applying to get an edge.

The reigning world champion beat Chelsea Carey 6-5 to win the Canadian Olympic Curling Trials, and will represent Canada at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics 1:30

Analytics advantage

There's a major shift happening in the sporting world when it comes to data and statistics. In many sports, most notably in baseball (see Moneyball), teams are doing deep dives into the numbers to get an edge on their opponents. Now it's hitting the curling world. 

During the Olympic trials in Ottawa, high above the Canadian Tire Centre, members of SAS and Canadian Tire's analytics teams were tracking every rock thrown by every player on the ice for every game.

It's a joint initiative between the Canadian Olympic Committee, SAS and Canadian Tire. It's a partnership that was signed about a year ago. SAS is an analytics software company that tracks more things the human brain can comprehend and then highlights it in an easily digestible way.

"It's another weapon in the arsenal of tools that a coach can use to help the athletes," Karl Quon said. "And why wouldn't you want a powerhouse advantage like that?"

Quon is technical consulting manager for SAS. He said the world of athletics is finally starting to realize how much of an edge it can give teams.

"If you're not doing it, your competitor is," he said. "We try and make analytics appealing for the masses and teams: cart and graphics. Collect billions of data points and present it in an easy to use interface."

Canadian Tire analyst Mike Heenan was perched in front of two computers for hours a day tracking in-turns, out-turns, takeouts, draws, all of it.

"I've heard the coaches are fairly receptive to the new information. If it wins more games they're open to that."

Now all of those numbers are being presented to Team Homan and Team Koe as they prepare for the Olympics.

"Of course the data and the numbers are important but it comes down to passion," Lang said. "The data is good. But we want our Olympians to combine it with passion."

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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