BOW VALLEY – The Qualico Mixed Doubles Classic returns to the Bow Valley with more at stake in the unique curling bonspiel lead-up to the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
"We're one of two events that are qualifying a team into the team trials, and the team trials is where they'll determine who goes to the Olympics," said Steven Young, president of Curling Alberta and the Banff Curling Club.
With an opportunity to rub elbows with the nation's best, 36 teams will vie for the spot between Sept. 30 to Oct. 3 at the Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre and Canmore Golf and Curling Club.
A high-calibre line up of teams are expected to compete including Canmore's John Morris and Ottawa's Rachel Homan – who've already qualified for the trials; Team Brad Gushue, Team Jennifer Laing, Tahli Gill and Dean Hewitt, Australia's Olympic representatives, and the United State's Korey Dropkin and Sarah Anderson, among others.
"This is the marquee mixed doubles event in the world now," said Morris, a two-time Olympic gold medallist, including the first champ in mixed doubles. "It's a really good tune-up event for us to help us prepare for the mixed doubles trials.
"For any curling fans in the Bow Valley, you're going to pretty much get to watch any of your favourite men's or women's curlers, they're going to be here."
The specialists of mixed doubles, a faster variation of curling pairing a male and female, will be set up at Qualico in six pools of six teams playing in a round-robin style. The top two teams in each pool advance to the knockout-style championship round, which has cash prizes.
The top four duos of the championship round receive a bye and the other eight teams face off with winners advancing until the field is whittled down to the final two.
A top Canadian team will be selected to the Canadian Mixed Doubles Trials in Saskatoon, where 16 teams will compete from Dec. 28-Jan. 2.
As world-class athletes flock to the Bow Valley, the Qualico Mixed Doubles Classic will remain true to one of its mandates of developing local and regional talent.
"When we first put this bonspiel together, we had core values of what we wanted to accomplish and one of them was to increase the level of participation and development of curling in the Bow Valley so that's why we made it a corner stone of our event to always include local teams and young teams," said Morris. "At the end of the day, that's massive if we can get the participation level up in the Bow Valley, which it has done."
For fans looking to head to either club to catch a few games, they are allowed under current Alberta Health Services rules. However, it will be dependent on regulations at the time of the event.
An online live stream of the featured sheet in Banff will also be set up, as well.
Morris added that Qualico is a throwback to old school curling tournaments that embraces the social aspect of the sport.
"All of the curlers are really looking forward to getting back on the ice and all the volunteers and committee are really excited to have it back," said Morris. "We have a great set of volunteers that help out from Banff and from Canmore and it's really nice to see both those communities work so well together.
"It's a wonderful culture to be a part of and it left a bit of a void with us last year because we weren't able to do it."