Canadian curling had a tough season — but it's still in decent shape
Disappointing world championship results are cause for concern
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It's been a rough year for Canadian curling
The 2021 women's world championship came to a merciful end yesterday when Switzerland beat Russia to win its second consecutive title. From a Canadian perspective, the best thing you can say about the final event in the Calgary "bubble," which hosted all of the sport's biggest annual tournaments and a pair of Grand Slam spiels over the past three months, is that it wasn't a complete disaster. Players, officials and broadcasters pushed through positive tests on the German team and on the TV crew to complete the event on schedule, and Kerri Einarson's Canadian rink scraped into the playoffs to save their country from the humiliation of having to play in a last-chance Olympic qualifier.
But Team Einarson's 8-3 defeat to Sweden in the opening playoff round was another tough loss in a tough year — a tough few years, actually — for Canadian curling. Brendan Bottcher's rink also got bounced in its first playoff game at the men's world championship last month, making this the first time in history that Canada failed to win a medal at either the men's or women's worlds. It's now been three years since Canada won a women's world title and four years since its last men's world title. And remember the 2018 Olympics? Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris won gold in the quirky new mixed doubles event, but Canada failed to reach the podium in both traditional curling competitions. Kevin Koe's rink lost the men's bronze game, while Rachel Homan's didn't even make the playoffs in the women's event.
So, time to panic? Depends on your outlook. If you still expect results like Canada winning 11 of the 18 men's world titles from 2000-17 or four of the six Olympic gold medals from 2006-14, you might feel like the world has caught up to Canada. And, to an extent, it has. There are more good non-Canadian curlers, and more countries playing the game at a high level, than ever before.
But let's take a step back. First off, it was a weird year. Under Canada's relatively tight pandemic-time restrictions, many Canadian curlers couldn't even get on the ice for much of the season. Meanwhile, some international players could play (or at least practise) as much as they wanted. So the world-championship results this year might be a little noisy.
Also, Canada's depth in the upper echelon of the sport is still unrivaled. On the women's side, the back-to-back world champion Swiss team skipped by Silvana Tirinzoni has earned the right to call itself the best in the world. But (with apologies to Anna Hasselborg's Swedish rink) the next two best teams are probably Einarson's and Rachel Homan's. They've met in the final of the last two Scotties — the toughest women's curling tournament in the world.
Canada's depth advantage on the men's side is even greater. Sweden's Nik Edin has won three world titles in a row and Scotland's Bruce Mouat just had a terrific season, winning both Grand Slams and reaching the final at worlds. But probably four of the top six teams on earth are Canadian — the ones skipped by Brad Gushue, Kevin Koe, Brad Jacobs and Bottcher.
So maybe Canada's biggest problem is not so much that the rest of the world has caught up, but that you're only allowed to send one team to each Olympic and world-championship tournament. Particularly on the men's side, this country still produces the bulk of the world's best curlers. If you think of it that way, Canadian curling remains in pretty good shape. Read more about the women's worlds and other takeaways from the Calgary bubble here.
DK Metcalf held his own. The star NFL receiver did not qualify for the U.S. Olympic trials in the 100 metres — nor did he come particularly close. Needing to run 10.05 seconds to earn an automatic spot, and probably sub-10.20 to keep his hopes alive, Metcalf clocked in at 10.37 and finished last in his heat yesterday at the USA Track and Field Golden Games and Distance Open in California. But, apart from his massive body, the 6-foot-4, 230-pounder didn't look too out of place. He finished only 0.01 of a second behind the next-slowest guy — pretty impressive for someone his size who's just dabbling in sprinting during the football off-season. Metcalf may not be "track fast" (merely "football fast"), but he deserves a lot of credit for stepping outside his comfort zone and putting himself out there like this. Read more about his 100m race and watch it here.
The Kentucky Derby winner failed a drug test. Medina Spirit's victory on May 1 hangs in the balance and legendary trainer Bob Baffert was suspended by Churchill Downs Racetrack yesterday after his colt tested positive for an excessive amount of a steroid sometimes used to treat pain and inflammation in horses. Medina Spirit is the fifth Baffert horse known to have failed a drug test in the past year or so. The trainer denied any wrongdoing, saying "there's problems in racing, but it's not Bob Baffert." If an ongoing investigation by state horse-racing officials upholds the results, Medina Spirit's Kentucky Derby win will be "invalidated" and second-place finisher Mandaloun declared the winner, Churchill Downs said. In the meantime, Medina Spirit is expected to race for the second jewel in the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes, this Saturday. Mandaloun will not run. Read more about Medina Spirit's positive test and Baffert's response here.
Bianca Andreescu is missing the last big tuneup before the French Open. The Canadian star hasn't played since April 3 when a foot injury forced her to quit the Miami Open final. She was supposed to return last week at the Madrid Open, until she tested positive for the coronavirus upon arriving in Spain the week before. Andreescu says she's healthy now and has returned to "full training," but she's skipping this week's tournament in Rome because of concerns that Italy's coronavirus regulations could force her to endure another quarantine if she travels there. Rome is the final "WTA 1000"-level event of the clay-court season. If Andreescu wants to sharpen her dirt game before the French begins on May 30, her only opportunities are a handful of lower-tier events that typically have weaker fields.
And in case you missed it…
A few more things from the weekend that you should know about:
Connor McDavid hit the 100-point plateau — in only 53 games. With a goal and three assists in Saturday's 4-3 win over Vancouver, the Oilers superstar became the ninth player in NHL history (and first in his lifetime) to reach the century mark that quickly. Two more fun facts, courtesy of the NHL: McDavid required the fewest games to reach 100 points since Mario Lemieux (38 games) and Jaromir Jagr (52) both did it for the Penguins in 1995-96; and only three guys had more 100-point seasons before their 25th birthday than McDavid's four: Wayne Gretzky (seven), Lemieux (six) and Dale Hawerchuk (six).
Christine Sinclair reached another milestone. Soccer's all-time international goals leader became the National Women's Soccer League's active leader by scoring her 60th career goal in Saturday's NWSL Challenge Cup final. Sinclair also scored in the penalty shootout to help the Portland Thorns defeat Gotham FC and finish the tournament undefeated. The NWSL regular season opens this weekend. This summer, Sinclair will try to lead the Canadian women's national team to its third consecutive Olympic medal. Read more about her performance in the Challenge Cup final and watch highlights here.
John Tortorella is out. The NHL's most colourful head coach said after Saturday's season-ending loss to Detroit that he and Columbus GM Jarmo Kekäläinen had come to "a mutual agreement to part ways" with his contract set to expire. The Blue Jackets finished last in their division and failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2015-16, Tortorella's first season with them. Two years ago, Torts guided the Jackets to a stunning first-round sweep of Tampa Bay, which was coming off one of the best regular seasons ever. Last year, they knocked off another more talented team, Toronto, in the qualifying round. Columbus has never advanced past the second round since it joined the NHL in 2000-01. Another coach whose deal was about to expire, Arizona's Rick Tocchet, is also not coming back after the Coyotes failed to qualify for the playoffs. Read more about both moves here.
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