Deja Vu All Over Again (Kinda): Final Thoughts on Olympic Curling

Back in 2018, Canada had a very disappointing run at the Olympics in curling.  While the mixed doubles team won gold — the first gold awarded it as an official Olympic sport, I believe — the women’s team didn’t make the semi-finals and so didn’t get to play for a medal, and the men’s team played for a medal and didn’t win one.

In 2022, the mixed doubles team didn’t make the semi-finals on an admittedly heartbreakingly close call (although that was a game they could and probably should have put away before that point).  The women’s team didn’t make the semi-finals and so didn’t get a chance to win a medal, losing out on a tie-breaker of draws to the button (teams draw to the button at the beginning of the game to see who gets to start with last rock, and all of Canada’s teams did really, really badly at that) to the ultimate gold and silver winners.  So that left the men’s team, who kinda squeaked into the semi-finals and then lost their first semi-final, meaning that either they were going to go home with a bronze or with nothing.  While I was dreading and anticipating Canada not winning a curling medal for the first time ever, Brad Gushue pulled it out, defeating 2018’s gold medal winner in the United States to at least take home a bronze.

So, in the three curling events, Canada only came home with one medal, like they did last time.  The colour was downgraded and two of the teams didn’t make the semi-finals instead of only one.  So this was only a slightly different result from the last time, and probably more disappointing.  My thoughts on this:

Why was Canada so poor at the initial draws to the button to start the game, which ended up costing them at least one semi-finals berth?  As the commentators noted, it’s not like they tend to have a lot of trouble drawing to the button in-game, so why did they have such a hard time with it at the beginning of the game?  All three of the teams struggled, and so it’s not just one team or team’s attitude.  It’s mindboggling that they would struggle with it so much.

I was mostly watching the curling while work — the Olympics did work really well as background noise — but there seemed to be a trait that Jennifer Jones’ team shared with Rachel Homan’s team:  very aggressive play, leaving lots of rocks in play and “challenging” their opponents.  From what it seems to me in watching them, the attitude often seems to be to indeed call the toughest shots that they can think of and dare their opponents to keep up with them.  I actually found this a contrast to Gushue’s team because they were often calling really tough shots when I thought that it might be better to play it safer, but they didn’t seem to be thinking about it that much and trying to look for the harder shot, but just seeing that one — or seeing it first — and then going ahead confident that they could make it.  The only that Gushue called that ended up losing him the semi-final was a tricky — although probably makeable — double when he could have simply drawn in and taken one and sent it to an extra end, and his hit was off which meant that he didn’t even get the slight roll that he needed to send it to an extra end, but that was the shot he saw and it was probably worth trying it since if he got any roll at all — and didn’t roll too far — he would probably get the one anyway.  So on the men’s side I saw them more as calling the shot that they saw gave them the most advantage rather than deliberately trying to take the game to their opponents, while for the women I saw them more trying to take the game to their opponents (at least in my opinion).

I wonder if this is part of the problem with at least women’s curling and maybe some of the men’s curling when they get outside of the Canadian championships and Grand Slams and compete internationally (I seem to recall that Brendan Bottcher, who last year went to the men’s world championships and didn’t do very well, often plays the same style, as does Kerri Einarson).  The teams that we see have the most success with this are indeed teams that can challenge almost any team they face and at least be at the same level of skill as them, and usually they’d be higher.  When it comes to solely Canadian tournaments and the Scotties they would tend to face a lot of teams with less experience and skill than they have, and so that strategy would really work most of the time as their opponents wouldn’t be able to keep up with them.  So the strategy is to push them hard figuring that either a) they won’t be able to keep up and so you’ll score a  big end or b) they will be able to keep up but won’t be good enough to force you into really tough shots or c) they will be able to force you to tough shots but you’ll make them and so at least limit any possible damage or d) you won’t be able to make the shots and they’ll score a bunch but then you’ll have lots of time to get that back.  This strategy would work really, really well most of the time for them.

But when it comes to the international events, it’s a strategy that can have its main weakness exposed, which is that it requires the team to outplay their opponents.  If the team can’t make their shots, it’s a recipe for disaster, and if their opponents match them shot-for-shot then it’s a coin flip to see who will win.  At the international events, there are more teams that can match them shot-for-shot, even if they aren’t quite as skilled and likely won’t win it all.  Moreover, the ice conditions can be quite a bit different and if the team doesn’t pick that up as quickly as their opponents then they won’t make their shots and so could end up not being able to utilize their overall skill advantage.  In 2018 there were comments about the ice early on and in 2022 the curling was played in what used to be a pool in the 2008 (I believe) Summer Olympics and so it’s likely that at least the ice wasn’t what they would have been used to playing in an arena and so not being able to judge the different ice conditions may well have caused the issue.  So they were going for big shots where if they made it things were great and if they missed things would be terrible while their opponents more often chose shots that might not be the best shots if they made them but wouldn’t be disastrous if they missed them, at least, “the right way” and so came out of their misses in better shape and so were able to put more pressure on, and so turned the tables.

That being said, the games tended to be inconsistent and full of mistakes, and Jennifer Jones all season has been inconsistent and missing shots, so perhaps this was just a continuation of that.

One final note:  Rachel Homan ended up making a Tweet about how devastated she was after losing — and still was — which bothered me slightly because I was seen too many of those be unsolicited and seemingly used to draw attention to herself, but looking at it in context I don’t think that was the case.  I do think that some of the public responses followed the typical recent pattern of being overly flattering in trying to make her feel better about herself, going beyond “It’s okay, we know you did your best” to “You’re such a wonderful person and player and are so great that we can’t fault you!”.  I prefer the former.  On the other hand, after Jones lost she said the right words about playing their hearts out and trying as hard as they could — and I do believe they did — but then ended it with “But we had a lot of fun!” and it boggles my mind that she would think that this was something that she’d say to disappointed curling fans and hope it would make them feel better, because the immediate response is “Maybe you should have had less fun and focused more on your curling and you might have done better!”.  I know that the Olympics can be an experience and am glad that they did manage to enjoy it, but it really seems like a tone-deaf “participation award” kind of response.  It’d be like me telling my manager that I couldn’t get my feature done in time because there was too much to learn and figure out to make it work, but that I really enjoyed the figuring out part.  At best, it’s irrelevant, and at worst it looks like I might have taken too much time having fun and not enough time buckling down to do the work.

Anyway, that’s it for the Olympics for another four years.  There’s lots more curling to come this year, as well as the Free Agency period after a four year cycle where teams start adjusting and ramping up to head to the next Winter Olympics.

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One Response to “Deja Vu All Over Again (Kinda): Final Thoughts on Olympic Curling”

  1. How Can Canada Fix its Curling Problem? | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] Well, as we just saw, Canada wasn’t dominant at the Olympics in curling, like it had been in the past, and in fact only won one medal, and it wasn’t even gold.  It turns out that even before the Olympics, there was a piece asking why Canada isn’t as dominant anymore and if it was because of our approach to curling, unlike that of other countries.  With everything done and a break before the Briar starts, I figured that today would be a good day to think about that myself. […]

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