PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE, Man. — Brad Gushue and Val Sweeting are one win away from going to the Olympics as the first-ever mixed doubles team for Canada.
The two skips started the trials with two losses and seemed lost at times. But they’ve won eight of their last nine games to punch a ticket to Sunday’s final, where they will face Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris for the second time in two days.
“This is what we play for. It’s really exciting that we have this opportunity,” said Sweeting.
She’s never been to the Olympics.
Gushue, on the other hand, is an Olympic champion, capturing gold in 2006.
He was only 25 years old then and was on top of the curling world. The sport was everything to him and he thought he was going to do a lot more winning.
That didn’t happen. In fact, years of frustration followed, including an injury that forced him from the game for an extended period of time.
But this past year couldn’t have been more magical for the Newfoundland and Labrador skip.
He captured his first-ever Brier championship at home in St. John’s. The team followed it up with a world championship in Edmonton.
Everything seemed to be pointing to Team Gushue winning the Olympic trials — that was the plan for the past four years. They were ranked No. 1 in the world going into it.
It all came crashing down when they lost in the semifinal to Mike McEwen’s team.
But this new, quirky curling discipline breathed new life into all four members — another Olympic chance.
Gushue was having a really hard time wrapping his head around mixed doubles curling and what it would mean to get to the Games in this two-person event.
“I’m not going to lie, coming into the week, I still didn’t have the motivation to play. I was still a little disappointed on how the team trials went,” he said.
Cramming for a mixed doubles curling exam
Gushue hasn’t played a lot of mixed doubles curling. It’s only the third time he’s played it. And only three previous times had he played with Sweeting.
Three weeks ago he started studying the sport — with his 10-year-old daughter Hayley by his side, they watched mixed doubles on YouTube.
“I don’t watch a lot of curling and if she wasn’t laying there with me, I probably wouldn’t have done it. So she helped me study. I didn’t do a lot of studying in school either so she forced me to do it,” he said.
Gushue says he learned a little bit by watching those games but it wasn’t until they started playing here this week that he really started to grasp the game. And in a lot of ways it was Sweeting that got Gushue fired up about this event.
“When Val made a triple against Laura [Crocker] and Geoff [Walker], I gave a pretty good fist-pump and shout and the guys gave me a hard time,” he said. “But the juices are flowing. I’m into this now. I want to win as much as anybody.”
The two have found curling chemistry on the ice and are on a roll with just one win to go before clinching an Olympic spot.
Everything from here on out is gravy
In a lot of ways, Gushue says he felt he had a lot to prove going into last season. That Brier title that had eluded him for so long was still missing. He had this opportunity to clinch a tankard at home of all places. The pressure was stifling at times.
“This week is not like how I felt at the Brier last year where I felt I had to validate myself. Now that we have that and worlds, it’s a little bit easier to play,” he said.
He’s reflective now and has a very different perspective on the game unlike that 25-year-old person he admits was high-strung.
“I’m a much different person and much different player than I was back then. My life was centred around curling. For me right now curling is secondary next to my family”
Don’t misunderstand what he’s saying, he wants to get back to the Olympics alongside Sweeting, but he isn’t letting the magnitude of it get too big anymore.
“I don’t get too nervous in big games anymore. For me everything feels like gravy at this point. I’ve won just about every event that I’ve tried to win,” he said.
Now he and Sweeting are one win away from making history by becoming Canada’s first mixed doubles team at the Olympics.