Mixed doubles is sweeping traditional curlers off their feet
New discipline quickly gaining fans after debut at Pyeongchang Games
LEDUC, Alta. — Curling traditionalists have had a hard time wrapping their heads around mixed doubles.
There are no sweepers, a lot of times there's no broom to throw the rock at, and there are rocks automatically positioned on the ice before each end. There's even a power play.
But after its debut at the Olympics in February, the new discipline is quickly gaining fans both on and off the ice.
Last month, Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris became the first team to win an Olympic gold in the new discipline. The two couldn't stop talking about how much they loved the game and believe it's going to grow the sport.
Now, curlers who have been around the game for a long time are saying the same things.
"It's two totally different games. You can't compare them," said veteran curler Cathy Overton-Clapham. "We all know it's faster. One mistake — it's a big end. You're never out of a game."
Overton-Clapham is playing in her first national mixed doubles event. She's played it a couple of times at Continental Cups in the past, but never with the right to wear a maple leaf on the line. She's teaming up with Matt Dunstone for the mixed doubles nationals taking place this week in Leduc.
"Yesterday, when we were playing, we were one up playing the seventh end and I didn't even realize it was the seventh. It's so fast," Overton-Clapham said. "You have to think quick. You have to be in it from start to finish."
The 48-year-old has been curling for most of her life. She's one of the sport's greats, having made 12 Scotties appearances, winning the national championship five times and a world title in 2008. Overton-Clapham was recently inducted into the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame.
During the Pyeongchang Games, Overton-Clapham provided curling analysis on NBC and it gave her a new perspective on the sport.
"Going from mixed doubles to the team game, it was a little boring. I'm not going to lie. It was slower."
Overton-Clapham said she wishes mixed doubles would have been an option for her earlier in her career, especially with it now being a part of the Olympic program.
"I think you'll see more Canadians specializing in mixed doubles now," she said. "I'm having fun and loving it out there."
Defending nationals champions defend the sport
Manitoba skip Reid Carruthers doesn't mince his words when talking about mixed doubles.
"I think people should just drop it when drawing comparisons between the two games," he said. "It's designed to be a different discipline. Throw traditional curling out the window when watching mixed doubles."
Carruthers is playing alongside his regular mixed doubles partner, Joanne Courtney, this week. The two won last year's national championship in Saskatoon before losing the gold medal game at the worlds against Switzerland. Canada has never won a world title in mixed doubles curling.
The two were split up for the Olympic trials because Courtney had already qualified for the Games as a member of Rachel Homan's team. Carruthers played with Jill Officer at the trials.
Now they're back together and hoping to defend their Canadian title and find some world championship redemption.
'Special' opportunity to wear maple leaf
"Any opportunity you have to wear the maple leaf is so special," Courtney said. "Our first goal this week is to get to the playoffs and then that final game."
Courtney said she's fallen in love with mixed doubles and it helps her overall game.
"It's nice to mix it up a bit and take on some extra rolls on the ice. I get to throw the last rock and have a little more pressure," she said. "When I go back to my women's team, I'm a better curler for it."
Carruthers admitted it's taken some time for him to learn the sport and get a full grasp on it, but is now excited to see where it can go from here.
"It's going to keep growing the game," he said.
"John and Kaitlyn winning gold helps. And I hope it's going to inspire younger curlers to give this a try. At my camp, now we do a mixed doubles day. It's a big thing."