Well, it’s been about a month or so since I’ve returned from the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, and what an amazing experience it was.
I feel so very privileged to have had the chance to attend two Olympic Games as an athlete from Canada. My first time was winning gold with the men’s curling team in front of a boisterous home crowd in Vancouver. And, most recently, I had the amazing experience of winning gold in the new curling discipline of mixed doubles in Korea with my partner extraordinaire Kaitlyn Lawes. Our country is so well received around the world and I was bursting with pride to be sporting that Maple Leaf once again.
I have to admit that I really didn’t know what to expect from these Games. I had lost my original mixed doubles partner in Rachel Homan after her team won the women’s Team Canada spot. Fortunately I was able to pick up one of the best women’s players in the game in Kaitlyn. We had played in a couple of events together five years ago, but besides that I only really knew her from playing on tour.
What I did know was that she is an amazing teammate, an exceptional curler, and a genuinely great person. However, we had barely played together on the ice, so how were we going to do as teammates? We didn’t have a lot of time to figure this out as we had only had one event to make magic happen and qualify for the Olympics… the Canadian Olympic mixed doubles trials.
Going into the trials I knew two things. Firstly, I absolutely loved playing this fast-paced, fun, offence-oriented sport of mixed doubles curling, and I felt like it really tailored to my strengths. Secondly, I had a heck of a partner in Kaitlyn and really felt that if we were able to gel quickly, then we would have a great shot at representing Canada at the Olympics.
The start of our Olympic trials couldn’t have started much worse. We began 2-3 and although we felt we were playing pretty well, our communication was average and we were second-guessing ourselves and our shots. Unlike other teams I’ve been on where we would have likely waited until the end of the event or midway through the season to start talking of what we needed to improve, in this situation we simply didn’t have the time. At the Olympic trials, first place is the only prize and coming in any other position is simply devastating, plain and simple.
So instead of folding our tents or getting frustrated with each other, we did what we felt was the only thing we could do to turn the event around. After every game we discussed what we were doing well and what areas we could improve on. The best part about this was that we didn’t have to sugar-coat anything, which is one of my favourite parts about playing with Kaitlyn — open and honest communication.
I think it was to our advantage that we both had siblings of the opposite sex, which kind of gave us some good experience with dealing with each other and not taking things too personally. If there was something that we didn’t like or that we felt needed then it was discussed and we were very open to these suggestions. We had to be — our Olympic lives depended on it.
After this we began putting together some better games and our communication really started getting better. One pivotal moment was in the playoffs where we had a game against Val Sweeting and Brad Gushue, in which the winner received a bye to the final and the loser had to play in a semifinal game vs. the Jocelyn Peterman/Brett Gallant juggernaut. Kaitlyn and I got off to a hot start in this game but during the latter parts of the match we started over-analyzing some shots and second-guessing ourselves again.
We blew our halftime lead and lost pretty badly by the end. Now, this is a situation that based on my past curling experience can really unravel a team because the last thing you want to do is to talk to your teammates immediately after a loss like this. Fortunately, we were able to see the bigger perspective and during dinner that night we painfully went over what had gone wrong and what we needed to do to rectify it. In bed that night I actually felt relieved that we had this chat and I still felt very confident that we could win two games the next day.
In short, we did. It proved there was no better test to get us ready for the Olympics than the Canadian trials as we had just played against the best curlers in our country and come out on top. We had developed a growing chemistry that only got better from here. Looking back on it, I feel Kaitlyn helped me become a better teammate at these trials.
The great unknown
I have to admit I didn’t really know what to expect from these Olympics. Here we were in this new discipline of mixed doubles curling playing against the world’s best mixed doubles players who had more than a handful of world championships between them.
And we were representing Canada — a traditional curling powerhouse but now playing in a discipline in which our country has never seen the top of the world championship podium in the sport’s 10-year existence.
In mixed doubles, you have nowhere to hide. If you miss a shot, it is magnified as there are only five shots in each end. Quite often these misses can snowball into a landslide and create massive points for your opponent. You have to be able to bounce back immediately and have your teammates back like no other sport I’ve ever played.
If things start getting ugly out there, it is really easy to fold your tent and be on the wrong side of a lopsided game. Likewise, if you are able to make some big shots after miss, it can really propel your team and create a competitive advantage. It really is a test of mental toughness like no other.
I knew we had great talent and experience on our side after both having won gold with our respective team in previous Olympics, but what I really think set us apart from our opponents at these Games was a combination of a bulletproof positive attitude, rock-solid team chemistry, and a respect for each other that created an unwavering faith.
Again, the Olympic tournament didn’t start how we had hope. After a first-game loss to Norway, I did not play well and was visibly upset. After the game Kaitlyn was nothing but positive with me and was not fazed by our loss.
We came out very determined in our next game and we both started to play like we knew we could. I noticed during the event that some of our competitors did not have the same chemistry. Maybe it was the pressure of the Olympics, or the heat of the moment, but I felt that a major advantage we had was our positive team chemistry.
We would never get down on each other and fully supported each other to every degree necessary. When our teammate was in the hack and ready to shoot, ultimately the choice is in their hands as to what to play. Because throwing a shot that you are confident in, even though it might not be the percentage play, is usually much more effective than throwing the higher percentage shot that you don’t feel comfortable throwing. This understanding was vital to our chemistry.
One of the most crucial times of our Olympic Games came during our semifinal game vs. Norway. This is always the highest pressure game at the Olympics for curlers because if you win you are guaranteed gold or silver, but if you lose then you might not get a medal - which by Canadian standards could be considered a disaster.
By the halfway point of this game, Kaitlyn was uncharacteristically struggling and we were in a really tight battle against the Norwegians. I had just swept a rock of Kaitlyn’s pillar to post which ended up coming up a few inches short. I barely had a chance to catch my breath before I had to do a halftime interview with CBC.
I was quite fired up because there was mention of Kaitlyn’s struggles and I strongly reassured Colleen Jones and the rest of the Canadian audience that I have zero doubt that Kaitlyn will turn it around and we will have a solid last four ends. My competitive juices were flowing and I was speaking from the heart. I knew that my partner was giving it everything she had, and just like she had my back earlier in the week, I had hers here. We were going to win or lose as a team.
Standing on top of the podium in Pyeongchang was a very different feeling than winning in 2010. Kaitlyn and I had accomplished something really special together being the first ever mixed doubles Olympic champions. I was just as proud standing up there with a female as I would have been with any of my male teammates. I would have to say that by the end of our Games, our team chemistry and ability to communicate effectively was as good or better than any men’s teams that I had ever been on.
Going into the Games I didn’t really know what kind of experience this mixed doubles was going to be. But I had the time of my life, with a wonderful Canadian woman who laid everything on the line for Canada with me and I must admit it exceeded all of my expectations.
Sport does not have a long-standing history of gender equality. When we won and we were both standing on the podium with our fellow medallists, we stood as one team, both having integral parts to our team’s success proving that sport can be played by both genders and it can work really well.
I am excited not only about where the future of mixed doubles curling will go from here, but what may lie ahead for some other winter sports — 2022 mixed two-person bobsled with both athletes having a turn to drive. How about it, Justin Kripps and Kaillie Humphries? Now that I would love to watch.
(Top large image by Jamie Squire/Getty Images; middle large images by Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press and John Morris)
10 quick answers from John Morris
Q: The best book you've ever read?
A: Any by Robert Munsch.
Q: Must-listen Podcast?
A: Joe Rogan.
Q: Best advice you ever received?
A: Surround yourself with positive people.
Q: If your life was a movie, what would it be called?
A: Indiana Jones and the temple of gold.
Q: What word or phrase do you overuse?
Q: What is a skill you wish you had?
A: Being able to fly.
Q: What's something no one would guess about you?
A: I love to listen to vinyl.
Q: If you could have the ultimate influential dinner party, who are the six people you'd invite?
A: Justin Trudeau, Gord Downie, Dalai Lama, Will Ferrel, Tom Petty, Tina Fey.
Q: What makes you cry, every time?
A: Cutting onions.
Q: What's the next goal you want to accomplish?
A: Become a great father and husband.