As the opening ceremonies for the PyeongChang Olympics draw ever closer, athletes around the world are either preparing for last ditch efforts to earn a berth in the biggest show on Earth, or eagerly anticipating their competition if they’ve already clinched a spot.
Canmore curler and Olympic gold medallist John Morris is among those still looking to punch their ticket, along with rinkmates third Jim Cotter (Vernon, B.C.), second Catlin Schneider (Regina, Sask.), lead Tyrel Griffith (Kelowna, B.C.) and fifth Rick Sawatsky (Kelowna).
With an eye on Korea, the Morris rink will be in Ottawa at the Canadian Tire Centre, Dec. 2-10 for the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings Olympic qualifying event.
The Roar of the Rings features nine men’s and women’s rinks which qualified through various victory criteria such as national championships. Among them are defending champions Brad Jacobs of The Soo and Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones.
Other Olympians include Morris himself (2010 as third with Alberta’s Kevin Martin, along with Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert) and Newfoundland’s Brad Gushue rink.
The 2017 Roar will be Morris’s third attempt at an Olympic berth, as he narrowly missed out in 2014 when he lost in the final to Jacobs (who also won the Pinty’s Skins Game in Banff en route to Olympic victory in Sochi, Russia).
Morris and rink won’t have to wait long to find out where they stand against Jacobs, as their rinks meet in the opening draw on Saturday (Dec. 2).
“We’ve been working on this for two years now,” said Morris, Thursday (Nov. 23). “With the Olympics in mind, we’ve put in a lot of training and practice to develop as a team.”
The Morris rink was recently in Summerside, P.E.I. for the Home Hardware Road to the Roar pre-qualifier, trying to get one of the last two spots in the Roar. Heading into the event, Morris had been skipping, with Cotter throwing fourth rocks, but after going 2-2 and in danger of bowing out of the playoff picture, a switch was made and Morris threw last.
“We’d struggled a bit with results this year. Jim was in as good a shape as he’s been, but our backs were against the wall and if we lost another game, we’d have been out.
“So Jimmy and I had a beer and talked it over. He said he was trying his hardest, but we weren’t getting the results. I was feeling really good and felt I could make a ton of shots.
“There are no egos on this team; we just want a win at the end of the day. So we made the change and it gave us a spark and the next three games were the best we played all year.”
In the pre-qualifier A event final, Morris defeated Edmonton’s Brendan Bottcher to clinch a spot in the Roar. Bottcher was the other qualifier after going on to defeat Ontario’s Glenn Howard.
This year’s Roar will be the culmination of two years’ work by the Morris foursome, which agreed to devote themselves fully to an attempt at the Olympics.
“Ottawa will be a crap shoot and it could be anyone’s game,” he said. “It’s high pressure. Teams you don’t expect may do well and teams you think will be there may not be. Koe, Gushue and Jacobs have to be frontrunners, but I don’t think anybody will be surprised by whoever wins.
“It will be a good event and these guys (Cotter, Schneider and Griffith) have always wanted to win a national title and win a gold for Canada. We’re going to go all out and give it everything we have in Ottawa.
“In most years, provincials and the Brier are the focus, but they’re maybe a bit of an afterthought this year. They’re not less important this year, but everyone is focusing on the Olympics.”