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Canada's earlier Olympic mixed doubles curling trials puts athletes in hurry-up mode


For mixed doubles curlers in Canada, the next Olympic Games are coming fast.

Curling Canada's changes to qualification means the country will know its 2026 representative in just over nine months, and well over a year out from the Winter Games in Milan and Cortina, Italy.

The gold, silver and bronze medallists in the national mixed doubles championships starting Sunday in Fredericton will be the first three declared teams for the 16-team Olympic trials Dec. 30, 2024 to Jan. 4, 2025.

Mixed doubles made its Olympic debut in 2018, when Canada's Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris claimed the first gold medal.

Lawes recalls the sprint between winning trials Jan. 7 and stepping on the ice in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

"We didn't have a month," she recalled. "This is a first for Canadian curling to do something so far in advance."

Canada's women's and men's team Olympic trials remain in their usual late-fall spot on the calendar Nov. 22-30, 2025 in Halifax.

The seismic shift in the Olympic mixed doubles timeline accompanies another new development.

Curling Canada will allow a curler to compete in both mixed doubles and team curling in the same Olympic Games for the first time, which it didn't in 2018 or 2022.

"Previously Canada wouldn't allow that, but there were quite a few teams that did it and did it fairly successfully at the last Olympics, including teams that won medals, participated in the medal ceremony and immediately went on the ice the next day to play their four-person event," said mixed doubles coach and program manager Scott Pfeifer.

Sweden's Oskar Eriksson won men's team gold playing third for Niklas Edin after earning mixed doubles bronze with Almida de Val in Beijing in 2022.

Scotland's Bruce Mouat and Jennifer Dodds were mixed doubles teammates before Mouat skipped Scotland to men's team silver and Dodds claimed women's team gold with Eve Muirhead.

"In the last couple of Olympics, just like Kaitlyn said, having three weeks between the Olympic trials and going to the Olympics simply wasn't enough," Pfeifer said.

"It just gives us a lot more time to prepare and organize those athletes and make sure that anything we're doing on the mixed doubles side isn't negatively impacting them with their four-person teams as well."

Pfeifer says the winner of January's Olympic trials in Liverpool, N.S., representing Canada in the 2025 world mixed doubles championship serves dual purposes.

The duo gains international experience and will also have a hand in qualifying Canada for the 2026 Olympics. Qualification is based on points earned in the 2024 and 2025 world championships.

So mixed doubles teams with Olympic aspirations need to get their game on in a hurry.

The 32-team field in Fredericton includes 14 provincial and territorial winners, the top 14 teams in the national rankings and the four semifinalists from 2023.

Aaron Sluchinski, who skipped an Alberta foursome at the recent national men's championship in Regina, will also curl mixed doubles in Fredericton with his wife Amanda. He's in favour of an earlier Olympic trials.

"One hundred per cent. You can give them more resources. You can give them funding. You can give them coaching, mental prep, nutrition, everything," Sluchinski said. "You can get them prepared to go and win the Olympics instead of just flying by the seat of your pants, trying to work out all the logistics just to get there, then try to compete the best you can.

"It allows you to plan your season around going to the Olympics in a year and I think they should do that with all three of our disciplines that we're sending to the Olympics. Surprised they didn't do it with men's and women's as well."

Rachel Homan, who ranked fifth in mixed doubles with Morris in Beijing, says competing in one discipline can feed the other.

"There's something to being able to play on the ice, learn the ice, getting more information, more reps, more rock matching," Homan said.

There is also holding up to the mental, emotional and physical demands of intense curling for 16 consecutive days.

Lawes has stepped back from mixed doubles because her plate is full with women's team curling and parenthood. She believes a Canadian curler could excel in both disciplines in Italy.

"When I think of the Olympics and other sports that have other multi-medal opportunities, curling, until recently, hasn't," she said.

"I think it's so special. It only happens every four years. Why not curl your brains out for a month straight and try and bring home a couple medals?"

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 14, 2024.