COVID-19 altering preparations for Canada's Olympic bobsled, curling, figure skating teams
After COVID-19 challenges forced the cancellation of Canada's mixed doubles trials, several top curlers are anxiously waiting to learn whether they will be chosen to represent the country in the discipline at the Beijing Games.
Curling Canada has said it will consult with the Canadian Olympic Committee and Own the Podium before an announcement will be made.
Specifics on a timeline haven't been determined, making an extended wait for the contenders seem even longer.
"This is a position we've never really been in before where it's completely out of your control," said John Morris, who won Olympic mixed doubles gold in 2018. "I think that's the biggest thing. As an athlete, you always want to control your own destiny. That's been the tough part."
The trials were originally scheduled for Dec. 28-Jan. 2 in Portage la Prairie, Man., but were cancelled on Boxing Day. The federation cited travel risks and positive cases among athletes for its decision.
Olympic mixed doubles play begins Feb. 2 at the Ice Cube in Beijing, two days before the opening ceremony. The Canadian nomination decision was still in the "consultation process," a COC spokesman said Tuesday in a text message.
Morris teamed with Kaitlyn Lawes to win gold in the discipline's Olympic debut in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
His usual partner, Rachel Homan, was not available for the trials that year as she had secured an Olympic spot in the women's team competition. Curling Canada doesn't allow curlers to play in both disciplines at the same Games.
Homan and Morris, currently ranked fifth in Canada, are both available for selection this time around. Now they just have to cross their fingers and hope they get the nod when the decision is finally made.
"It's definitely hard on the heart," Homan said Tuesday from Beaumont, Alta.
Jocelyn Peterman and Brett Gallant are ranked No. 1 in Canada but both are already Beijing-bound after victories in the four-player team trials last November in Saskatoon.
Peterman helped Team Jennifer Jones to victory and Gallant helped Team Brad Gushue win the men's berth. Jones and Brent Laing are ranked second in mixed doubles.
Given the unique scenario, it's possible — although seemingly unlikely — that Curling Canada could make an exception to its rule. Many countries allow players to compete in both disciplines at the Games, but it appears doubtful the Canadian federation would want to disrupt team plans at this late date.
Nancy Martin and Tyrel Griffith are ranked third ahead of Lisa Weagle and John Epping. Weagle is part of Jones's five-player team but is eligible for mixed doubles since she's listed as an alternate for Beijing.
Another potential contender is the duo of Kerri Einarson and Brad Jacobs. Einarson, who won the Canadian mixed doubles title last season with Gushue, planned to play the trials with Jacobs.
Rankings and recent results will likely impact the decision-making process. Experience in major events like world championships and Olympic Games could also be factors.
Morris said he was "champing at the bit" to get on the ice before the playdowns were cancelled.
"Rachel and I had a great training camp leading up to the trials," he said in a recent interview. "We were so ready to go. That's the hard part. You can't go and prove yourself."
Sweden, Great Britain, Switzerland, Norway and the United States are some of the headliners in the 10-team Olympic mixed doubles field.
"I would absolutely love to have the chance to take them on but I'm sure there's some other curlers that are saying that too," Morris said from Canmore, Alta. "I just love going to battle against the world's best and I would absolutely love that opportunity."
Homan, meanwhile, is also waiting for news on another curling front. The Ontario Curling Association recently suspended its Jan. 5-9 provincial championship in Thornhill due to new restrictions in the province.
On Friday, the association plans to declare a representative for the Jan. 28-Feb. 6 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Thunder Bay, Ont.
"It has just been a crazy couple of weeks really," Homan said. "Just so many emotions that come with it."
Homan, a three-time national champion who has led Ontario to three straight Scotties final appearances, would normally be a slam dunk for selection.
However, if she gets the Olympic mixed doubles call, it could open the door for Ontario contenders like Team Hollie Duncan (ranked sixth in Canada) or Team Jacqueline Harrison (tied for sixth at trials).
The 2022 Canadian Under-18 Championships were postponed Tuesday due to ongoing uncertainty related to the pandemic, Curling Canada said.
The event was scheduled for Feb. 14-20 in Timmins, Ont. The federation said it will try to reschedule the competition for later this year in a different location.
The 2023 U18 nationals will be held in Timmins next year. Curling Canada also said the inaugural Under-23 Lethbridge Classic in March will be cancelled.
Five different provincial and territorial championships were on tap this week to fill out the field at the upcoming Canadian women's curling championship.
Finals were set for Sunday in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Yukon, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories.
Kerri Einarson's team will wear Canada colours at the 2022 Scotties. The Manitoba-based rink will be joined by Christina Black (Nova Scotia), Brigitte MacPhail (Nunavut), Sarah Hill (Newfoundland and Labrador) and Mackenzie Zacharias (Manitoba) in the field.
Ontario, Northern Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island have either cancelled or suspended their playdowns and have yet to announce their representatives. A single wild-card team will also be added.
The men's national championship, the Tim Hortons Brier, is set for March 4-13 in Lethbridge, Alta.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 4, 2022.
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