Gangneung, South Korea (AP) — Switzerland’s mixed doubles curling team secured a spot in the Olympic gold medal game against Canada by edging their Russian opponents 7-5 in a tense semifinal match on Monday.
After the win, Swiss curler Jenny Perret struggled to hold back her tears, dubbing her team’s victory “unbelievable.”
One of the more dramatic moments of the night came in the fourth end. With several rocks crowding the house, Aleksandr Krushelnitckii deliberately threw his last stone past the target, rather than attempting a maneuver into the center of the bullseye that risked giving the Swiss two points instead of one. But Krushelnitckii threw the stone so hard it crashed into the black push-off blocks known as the hack. The stone flipped over and dinged the ice, prompting the arena’s ice technician to race over with a blowtorch and a water sprayer to fix the damage.
Curling ice isn’t smooth like skating ice; it’s covered in a nubbly coating of frozen water droplets called “pebbles,” which help the stone move across the surface. Keeping the ice consistent is crucial, because any change can cause the stones to travel in a different way. Once fixed, the curlers resumed their game.
The mixed doubles event, which is making its Olympic debut at the Pyeongchang Games, has proven popular with fans and curlers who have praised its relatively rapid pace and potential for high scores.
Most standard curling matches last about three hours. In mixed doubles, the whole thing is over in about 90 minutes. Though the point of both curling styles is the same — to get your stone closest to the center of the house — mixed doubles has a few differences. There is only one man and one woman on each team instead of the four in single-gender curling, there are eight ends instead of 10, and each team throws six rocks instead of eight during each end. It all adds up to a zippier, more energetic match than traditional curling.
“The fact that you don’t need to have four people, just one male, one female, I think that’s helped grow the sport,” said Kaitlyn Lawes, one half of Canada’s mixed doubles team. “It’s so much fun to play and I think the fans are loving it, because it’s high scoring, it’s fast-paced and I think it’s fun for them to see how men and women interact on the ice.”
Mixed doubles can be more physically exhausting for the players. There is little rest between shots, and the person who throws the stone also sometimes has to race ahead and sweep it. Lawes’ teammate, John Morris, said he was so drained after the Olympic trials that he couldn’t sweep for two weeks. Still, he is passionate about the new version of the sport.
“If I was just starting out curling and I had the choice to play team curling or mixed doubles, I’d play mixed doubles,” Morris said. “It’s more athletic and you don’t have to take three hours to play, which is really nice. … You can tell why all these other countries are picking up on it.”
Mixed doubles also requires more mental stamina than traditional curling.
“You’re definitely more involved in every shot, you always have to stay on,” said U.S. curler Becca Hamilton, who competed in the mixed doubles round robin with her brother. “It’s a lot more hands-on for the two players, because there’s only two of us.”
Earlier Monday, the Canadians swept to an 8-4 victory over Norway after getting off to a shaky start and missing several early shots. By the seventh end, Canada had a one-point lead. Lawes then threw the defining shot of the game, knocking Norway’s stone out of the center of the house and leaving three Canadian rocks close to the target. That put Canada ahead 8-4, and Norway couldn’t come back from the deficit.
“It was a high pressure game,” Morris said, “but that’s what I live for.”