Mixed doubles curling has Olympic champion John Morris hooked

Mixed doubles curling has Olympic champion John Morris hooked

John Morris is all in on mixed doubles curling. Winning the first Olympic gold medal in it will do that to you.

He hasn’t completely shut the door on a return to a men’s team in the future, but Morris currently feels more passionate about curling’s newest discipline.

The 39-year-old from Ottawa is playing mixed doubles exclusively. Morris recruits different female partners when Olympic teammate Kaitlyn Lawes isn’t available.

Not only did he and Lawes become the first Olympic mixed doubles champs in February, they also are the first curlers in the world to win Olympic gold in both it and team curling.

Lawes plays vice on the Jennifer Jones team that won the Olympic women’s title in 2014. Morris was Kevin Martin’s third in 2010 when they claimed men’s gold.

Few national men’s championships haven’t featured Morris at skip or vice as he’s represented Ontario, Alberta and B.C. at the Brier during his career.

Now living in Canmore, Alta., Morris isn’t feeling any pangs to return to a men’s foursome.

“There’s probably only a small handful of guys I would ever consider playing with again,” Morris told The Canadian Press. “I would not be playing men’s team this year even if Brad Gushue called me.

“It’s mixed doubles now and if the right opportunity presents itself in the next year or two, it’ll be something I’ll think about. I’m really enjoying playing mixed doubles and that’s what’s on my radar right now.”

Morris will represent Canada in the second leg of the World Cup of Curling starting Wednesday in Omaha, Neb., with Edmonton’s Kalynn Park as his doubles partner.

Lawes is otherwise occupied with Jones at the Canada Cup of Curling that also opens Wednesday in Estevan, Sask.

Taylor McDonald was initially going to curl with Morris in Omaha, but the Canada Cup claimed her too when Allison Flaxey’s team qualified for Estevan.

In a crowded curling calendar, Morris accepts he’ll likely have a rotation of partners in mixed doubles.

“I feel like I have a lot of friends in the curling world,” he said. “It’s a good challenge if I have a different partner at an event.”

But Morris and 29-year-old Lawes from Winnipeg have committed to be mixed doubles teammates for at least two seasons. They won last month’s Canad Inns Mixed Doubles Championship in Portage, Man.

“She’d be my first choice because we’ve had a great track record,” Morris said. “I fully respect her commitment to her women’s team with Jennifer Jones.

“She’s playing on one of the best women’s teams in the world and she’s got a great thing going there.”

Mixed doubles fits Morris’s life right now. The firefighter’s wife Maggie gave birth to Jack a month after the Winter Games.

“These mixed doubles events are three or four days. They’re definitely a little shorter and a little less maintenance because you’re not dealing with four or five personalities,” Morris explained.

“It’s a bit more flexible and adaptable, the game of mixed doubles, and right now with having a young family and not wanting to be away over 100 days a year in a hotel, it’s kind of nice to have more flexibility.”

Morris is so bullish on mixed doubles that he’s organized the inaugural Qualico Mixed Doubles Classic in Canmore and Banff, Alta., Jan. 3-6.

“We want to create a bit of a curling culture because it’s so driven by alpine and nordic skiing,” Morris explained. “It’s filled up. There’s a waiting list for it.”

In Omaha, Morris and Park are in a group with Switzerland’s Jenny Perret and Martin Rios, whom Morris and Lawes beat for Olympic gold in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“I think they’ve won almost every event they’ve been in,” Morris said. “They’re definitely talented mixed-doubles specialists. That will be a very good test.”

Teams skipped by Winnipeg’s Jason Gunnlaugson and Tracy Fleury will join Morris representing Canada in Omaha.

Canada swept the first leg of the inaugural World Cup in Suzhou, China, in September. Kevin Koe and Rachel Homan won the team events, while Kirk Muyres and Laura Walker took mixed doubles.

The World Cup’s third stop is Jan. 30-Feb. 3 in Jonkoping, Sweden. The grand final May 8-12 in Beijing features winning teams from the previous three stops.

The World Cup, sponsored by a Chinese company, offers a total of US$775,000, or just over CDN$1 million, in prize money.

ICE CHIPS

The 15-team, $140,000 Home Hardware Canada Cup of Curling gets underway Wednesday in Estevan, Sask.

Defending champions Jennifer Jones and Reid Carruthers have teams in the field as do Brad Gushue, Rachel Homan, Kerri Einarson, Brad Jacobs and Kevin Koe.

A virtual tie in the 2017-18 Order of Merit standings for the final women’s berth added an eighth team to the tournament.

The winners earn a berth in the 2021 pre-Olympic trials and will represent Canada at a World Cup event during the 2019-20 season.

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