Road To The Olympic Games

Youth Olympics

Canadian curlers keeping heads up after being eliminated at Youth Olympics

Wearing the Maple Leaf at an international event is the ultimate goal for any Canadian curler. The competition within the curling-crazed nation is extraordinary. And so too is the pressure. Representing Canada in curling comes with a heavy weight and great responsibility.

Japan steals extra-end victory in quarter-final against Canada

From left to right, Nathan Young, Lauren Rajala, Emily Deschenes and Jaedon Neuert compete against Japan in quarter-final game of the curling event at the Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games on Wednesday in Champery, Switzerland. (Thomas Skrlj for CBC/COC 2020)

CHAMPERY, Switzerland – Wearing the Maple Leaf at an international event is the ultimate goal for any Canadian curler. The competition within the curling-crazed nation is extraordinary.

And so too is the pressure. Representing Canada in curling comes with a heavy weight and great responsibility.

Skip Nathan Young, third Emily Deschenes, second Jaedon Neuert and lead Lauren Rajala were given that responsibility, selected by Curling Canada to represent the country at the Youth Olympics about eight months ago.

They came together in Switzerland from all parts of Canada and had limited time to practice with one another. Young is from Torbay, N.L. Deschenes lives in Ottawa. Neuert resides in Winnipeg and Rajala lives near Sudbury, Ont.

Six days ago, they stepped onto the ice at the Youth Olympics. It was only the second time they all competed together. They went through the round-robin undefeated, quickly gelling and communicating as if they had been on the same team for years.

"To be put on a team with three other people you don't know too well and play like we did was awesome," Young said.

Jaedon Neuert, left, and Lauren Rajala, right sweep against Japan on Wednesday. (Thomas Skrlj for CBC/COC 2020)

They're all 17 years old but played beyond their years. And while the experience gained at the Games is something they'll never forget, they all so badly wanted to win gold for Canada at the Youth Olympics.

It wasn't to be Wednesday morning in Champery, as the Canadians fell to Japan in an extra-end, 5-4. Young had a tough draw to the button for the victory but crashed on a guard just before the rings.

"You're going to have a lot more shots like that to win games and advance. I was nervous on that shot," he said after the game. "The more times you throw shots like, the more prepared you'll be to throw that shot again."

Dramatic measurement

Curling drama unfolded at the conclusion of the eighth end with Canada leading 4-3. After Japan threw their last rock and were already counting a single point, there were four rocks clustered around the button – two Canadian stones and two Japanese stones.

A measurement was needed to determine if Japan had scored two points for the win or if Canada was the second-shot rock to force an extra end. But this was no ordinary measurement.

The umpire stepped onto the ice and spun the measuring stick around and around, removing two rocks to begin. Then, after four more measurements it was finally determined that Canada was out-counting Japan, forcing an extra end.

Emily Deschenes prepares to thrown a stone against Japan in the quarter-finals on Wednesday. (Thomas Skrlj for CBC/COC 2020)

"I looked at the rocks and thought it was us," Deschenes said. "It kept going around and around. I kept asking if it was red. Add a little stress and some excitement. It was a scary moment."

It kept Canada's Youth Olympic hopes alive for another eight rocks, before losing in the extra end.

While the loss was disappointing for the Canadian team, Young provided perspective, moments after the loss – incredible poise as he calmly spoke to media.

"There's a lot more to this than that game. Representing Canada at a Youth Olympics is just a crazy experience," Young said. "To be here is amazing."

Deschenes says she'll never forget what it was like to step onto the ice inside the Palladium Arena and see the Olympic Rings while wearing a Canadian jersey.

"I think we never gave up," she said. "That's the Canadian spirit."

Rajala was selected flag bearer for Canada, leading the team into the Opening Ceremony at the Youth Olympics. She couldn't say enough good things about playing alongside her three teammates as they battled on the ice together.

Emily Deschenes, left, and Nathan Young, right, chat during a quarter-final match against Japan on Wednesday. (Thomas Skrlj for CBC/COC 2020)

"I mean honestly it's been such an amazing experience. I couldn't have asked for three better teammates. They're amazing curlers," she said. "I'm happy to call them family."

For Neuert, the pressure of the big games is something he'll carry with him forward back to Manitoba as he continues to move forward in his curling career.

"Knowing how to deal with the atmosphere is the biggest takeaway," he said.

"Later in the game I felt pressure. I thought we composed ourselves well. We played really, really throughout this whole thing."

How Canada fared Wednesday

Toronto figure skaters Natalie D'Alessandro and Bruce Waddell helped their team finish third in a mixed National Olympic Committee event. They were joined by athletes from Russia, Hungary and Ukraine.

In biathlon, Calgary's Jenna Sherrington and Naomi Walch and Ethan Algra of Abbotsford, B.C., combined to finish 18th in the mixed relay.

In the parallel mixed team alpine skiing event, Canada lost 4-0 to France.

With files from Canadian Press

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