In 2018, when Canada failed to win medals in men’s and women’s curling for the first time since the sport became part of the Olympic Winter Games, there was some nervous hand-wringing about our nation’s place in the international hierarchy.
Things are looking even more dire in 2021, as Canada is now in a desperate situation just to qualify for the 2022 Beijing Olympics in women’s curling.
Kerri Einarson and her teammates from Gimli, Man., finally ended a four-game losing streak Monday afternoon at the women’s world curling championship in the Calgary bubble, but a 1-1 record on the day left Canada with a 2-5 overall mark that has them in danger of missing the playoffs.
“I really enjoy smiling, so now we’ve got something to smile about,” Einarson said after an 8-4 win over Olympic silver medallist Eun-Jung Kim of South Korea Monday afternoon at the Markin MacPhail Centre.
“We really needed that win to just boost our confidence. We were playing so well but we just weren’t getting those breaks. In this game, we did get those breaks and we really capitalized on them when we did.”
The win keeps Team Einarson’s hopes of making the playoffs — and directly qualifying Canada for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games — alive.
Canada has a big job ahead in winning in its final six games — a team got into the six-team playoffs at the men’s worlds with an 8-5 record and it’s technically possible to get in at 7-6 — but at least things are looking a little more positive than they did Monday morning.
Canada lost 6-2 to Germany’s Daniela Jentsch in the morning draw, falling to an astonishing 1-5 record.
“It just feels like we’re letting opportunities slip away and we’re paying for every mistake but we feel really close out there,” Canadian third Val Sweeting said after her team lost to a German side that is playing with three players after two others tested positive for COVID-19.
“We’ve just got to string some positives together, some games together and hope we can still make it in at the end of the week. It feels closer than what our record is showing right now.”
Only the top six teams in this event will automatically qualify their countries for the 2022 Winter Olympics. Should Canada finish outside the top-six, now a distinct possibility, it will have to try to get into the Olympics through a last-chance qualifying tournament next December in Europe.
Canada could be represented in that tournament by whichever women’s team wins the Olympic Curling Trials, Nov. 20-28 in Saskatoon.
At least the equation is simple for Canada now — they just have to focus on winning every single game, starting Tuesday with a morning game against 1-5 Italy.
“It’s all we can do at this point,” Canadian second Shannon Birchard said, taking solace in the fact that the task ahead is difficult, but not impossible.
“There’s still a lot of games left and we’ve got to play every single one, so we might as well win them,” Birchard said. “We just have to think about going forward and just try to get on a roll.”
The Einarson foursome was ranked second in the world coming into this event. The team won both the 2020 and 2021 Scotties Tournament of Hearts, plus the recent Grand Slam Players Championship in the Calgary bubble. The team came into the worlds having gone 22-4 in three previous events, combined.
There are some who think playing in the two recent Grand Slam events may have led to some “bubble burnout” for this team.
“I don’t think so,” Sweeting said. “We’re all really excited for this opportunity. It’s been a long time in this bubble but I don’t think that’s the case. We’ve just got to get back up there.”
The loss to Germany was particularly tough to swallow, as that team has faced major adversity throughout their Calgary bubble experience.
“Obviously we knew that they were struggling,” Jentsch said. “We’ve also seen the stuff that’s on social media and it’s tough when you have the Maple Leaf on your back. Everyone has big expectations for them. They’re a great team and they’re just not quite there this week.
“For us, it’s easy to play against a team that’s already broken a little bit. And we have nothing to lose — we’re a three-person team right now — so we can just go out there and play. That’s never a good, fair playing field.”
HOW TO REGROUP
At a normal curling event, when things are going wrong for a team, the skip might go out for dinner with her family, have a few beverages, or basically do anything to take her mind off the games.
That’s not possible in the curling bubble, where players are confined to their hotel rooms for most of the time when not on the ice.
But, after a tough loss to the United States on Sunday, Einarson found a way to get away from curling for a short time.
“Last night I just sat on my bed and a few of my friends FaceTimed me and we played a group game,” she said. “It just put some smiles on my face, made me laugh. I FaceTimed my parents, FaceTimed my husband, FaceTimed my girls and that put a smile on my face too.
“I did have a good cry, I will admit. You’ve just got to get it out sometimes.”
EIGHT-ENDER AT WORLDS
History was made at the world women’s championship Sunday night, although no fans, nor TV cameras, were there to see it.
The defending champion Swiss team, skipped by Silvana Tirinzoni and with Alina Paetz throwing fourth stones, scored the first eight-ender in the history of the world championship.
The eight-ender came in the seventh end of a 13-4 win over Denmark.
“It’s the first time any of us got an eight-ender so it was kind of special,” Tirinzoni said.
The Swiss team has been dominant so far in the tournament, rolling to a 5-0 record.
No matter what happens from now on however, they’ll be able to say they did something no other team has ever done at this level.
“Our goal was not to score eight,” Tirinzoni said. “The goal is to win the game, but because it’s so special, it happens once in a lifetime, I’m gonna take it for sure. Even better than a hole-in-one.”
MORE BROADCAST POSITIVES
Games were not televised again on Monday as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak among broadcast staff in the bubble. Four staff members tested positive on Sunday and another three on Monday.
The World Curling Federation announced Monday that games will not be shown on TSN in Canada or on World Curling TV on the internet, until at least Wednesday afternoon, and additional positive cases could push that back further.
Broadcast staff members, including TSN commentators Vic Rauter, Cheryl Bernard and Russ Howard and WCTV personalities Mike Harris, Kevin Martin, Jill Officer and Joan McCusker, are all isolating in their hotel rooms in Calgary as more tests are performed.
WORLD WOMEN’S CURLING CHAMPIONSHIP
At Markin MacPhail Centre, Calgary, April 30-May 9
Russian Federation (Alina Kovaleva) 6-0
Switzerland (Silvana Tirinzoni) 5-0
Sweden (Anna Hasselborg) 4-1
China (Yu Han) 4-1
United States (Tabitha Peterson) 4-2
Scotland (Eve Muirhead) 4-2
Germany (Daniela Jentsch) 3-3
Czech Republic (Anna Kubeskova) 2-3
Japan (Sayaka Yoshimura) 2-3
South Korea (Eun-Jung Kim) 2-5
Canada (Kerri Enarson) 2-5
Denmark (Madeleine Dupont) 1-4
Italy (Stefania Constantini) 1-6
Estonia (Marie Turmann) 0-5
Germany 6. Canada 2
Switzerland 10, Japan 5
Sweden 7, Scotland 4
United States 5, Estonia 3
Canada 8, South Korea 4
Scotland 9, Italy 6
RCF 7, Denmark 5
China 7, Czech Republic 2
Sweden vs. Czech Republic
China vs. Switzerland
Germany vs. Estonia
Denmark vs. United States