Thoughts on Olympics Curling …

So, the Olympic curling tournament is over, with Team Sweden beating a somewhat surprising Team South Korea to win the gold, with Team Japan, also somewhat surprisingly, taking the bronze over Team Great Britain. What’s also notable is that on both the men’s and women’s sides Canada was a huge disappointment. Kevin Koe made the playoffs but lost the bronze medal game, and Rachel Homan didn’t even make the playoffs on the women’s side. This is the first time since curling has been an official Olympic sport that Canada has not won any kind of model in women’s and men’s curling, as both the men’s and women’s teams had always picked up a bronze medal before now. As the commentators noted, with the depth of the curling field it was only a matter of time before that streak was broken, but both teams had hoped that it wouldn’t be this time around, and certainly hoped that it wouldn’t happen on both the men’s and women’s sides.

It was also interesting to note that the men’s and women’s teams tended to mirror each other in their results. Koe started off 4 – 0, and Homan started off 0 – 3. Then when she went on her 3 – 0 run, Koe went 0 – 3. That continued pretty much throughout the entire tournament, and it can even be noted that Homan won her last game and then Koe lost both the semi-final and the bronze medal game. What, did they have some kind of magic feather that they kept passing back and forth for the entire tournament [grin]?

Homan’s results are the more disappointing, and also the most interesting, and since it’s women’s curling which I actually follow I’m going to talk about that in detail. And I think I blame the loss the most on coach Adam Kingsbury, because this wasn’t really a curling loss, but is far more of a mental loss, and that’s what he’s supposed to do for the team. Team Homan doesn’t go with a coach that analyzes curling strategy like all the other teams, and in the timeouts he never comes out to advise them on what shot to make. He’s only there to help with the psychological side, and that’s where Homan failed. He had one job, and didn’t achieve it. Homan’s team for most of the tournament was frustrated, upset, and lacking in confidence, and arguably that’s what cost them the most. After starting poorly but coming back with a 3 – 0 run, they shouldn’t have been as frustrated in later games as they were when things didn’t go right for them, and shouldn’t have been guessing so much on the ice at that point. That run should have settled their nerves, and it didn’t.

The issue here is that Homan started with the two teams that ended up playing for the gold medal and finished 1 – 2 in the round robin. They were pretty much the class of the field, and arguably the two toughest teams to play in the entire tournament. If Homan had been able to beat them, that would have given them a great start, but they had to look at that schedule and think that it was quite possible that they’d be 0 – 2 (especially since Korea had beaten her in their last two meetings). And the games were close. While the Korea game’s final score was a bit lopsided, that all came from what I consider to be a strategy mistake in the ninth end of that game, and they lost to Sweden in an extra end. What they should have taken from that was not “Things aren’t going well for us and we’re not reading the ice that well” but instead “We’re doing not much worse than the teams that are likely the best ones here, so we just need to keep doing what we’re doing”. But the game against Denmark was key, and in that game they were already frustrated and hoping for breaks. Losing that one, a game they expected to win and likely needed to win, pretty much set their mindset for the tournament and so when anything went wrong they started to fall back into that again, and couldn’t use their big wins to shake that mindset.

The fact that, as I said earlier, Homan plays a very aggressive and risk/reward style didn’t help. In order to win doing that, you need to make shots. In order to make shots, you need to pretty much believe that you can make it mostly routinely, because if you don’t you will try to make the shot too “perfectly” and likely be off … and for tough shots you have to extremely precise. Curling is a game where an inch can be the difference between lying three and your opponent lying three, between scoring a bunch, not scoring at all, or giving up a big end … all at the same time. Trying to be too perfect just makes it more likely that you’ll miss by an inch, and if you’re doubting your ability to make shots it will affect your shot selection, as it can make you too conservative or too aggressive, as you either make the “safe” shot to try harder to not leave your opponent anything.

The tournament also had the most boring game I’ve ever seen, in the Italy/Canada men’s game, where Italy wanted to play incredibly conservative and Koe decided to play along for almost the entire game. It also had one of the most interesting games, in the Korea/Japan semi-final, where both teams just kept making shot after shot forcing more great shots and great strategy to keep the other team on their toes and from scoring in bunches. So we had the best and the worst of curling here.

What was also interesting was that considering that they went 8 – 1 and I think curled really well in the semi-final, Korea’s tournament averages were all shockingly low, with them being in the 70s generally, including the skip being in the 70s. High 70s, sure, but you’d think that that dominant a team — except in the final, of course — would have higher numbers.

Now that the Olympics are done, a lot of teams, especially in Canada, are a-changin’, as players who stuck around only to get a chance at going to the Olympics are retiring and teams that stuck together only because it would be too disruptive to their chances are splitting up. Michelle Englot has already retired, and Chelsea Carey’s team is disbanding, Val Sweeting has left her team and is going to play third for Kerri Einarson, with Einarson’s old team taking on Tracey Fleury as skip, with the breakup of that team decided before they even went to the Scotties, as Kelsey Rocque has reformed a new team with former junior teammates. And the season isn’t over yet. I would not be surprised if this even impacts Team Homan, as Joanne Courtney was always out in Alberta and I think Homan has now moved out there, making for potential geographic issues. I know that it was difficult for Courtney at times, but don’t know if things have improved enough for this to work. They are, of course, not going to say anything about that right now, so it’ll be interesting to see if they stick together or not.

Anyway, the next women’s curling is the Worlds in March.

3 Responses to “Thoughts on Olympics Curling …”

  1. Canada Cup | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] straight Grand Slam events for the second time. I think the reason for this is similar to what cost them at the past Olympics: they play a very high risk game and demand that their opponents go along with them on that. When […]

  2. Thoughts on the Women’s World Championships | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] start they could have collapsed and could have gotten heavily down on themselves.  This, I think, is what happened to Rachel Homan at the last Olympics, where she started off against the eventual gold and silver medal winners which kinda derailed her […]

  3. The plot thickens | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] international experience was in four person and although she went to the Olympics last time around she didn’t do all that well.  So one consideration likely was that they didn’t have the experience of the other teams, […]

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