John Morris and Kaitlyn Lawes, a pair of U SPORTS alumni, made Olympic history at the PyeongChang Olympics when they captured gold in the inaugural mixed curling event. It was the first time the two played together on an international stage, though neither was unfamiliar with the high stakes of the Olympic Games.
Morris entered competition already an Olympic gold medalist in men’s curling from Vancouver 2010, while Lawes also had gold in women’s curling from the Sochi 2014 Games. Despite being veterans of the team game, mixed curling was a departure from the familiar group-style of play both players were used to.
Mixed doubles is a completely different sport than team curling. It's so much fun. One of the things that it's really done for me the last few years is really instill some of the fun back in the game, and it brings me back to my roots of curling.
The first test the duo faced was at the Olympic trials. Rachel Homan was originally slated to be Morris’ partner but was no longer available after her rink qualified to represent Canada in the women’s event. That’s where Lawes, a Manitoba Bisons alum and third for Jennifer Jones’ team, came in.
“I was very fortunate that she was able to play with me in the trials,” Morris says. “It was a quick learning curve; we needed to hone our skills a little bit out of the gate and develop our game plan and strategy.”
The duo gelled quickly, a testament to the five years of becoming familiar with each other while playing on tour. At the Olympics, Morris and Lawes put on an impressive performance. They went 8-1 en route to gold, losing only their first match to Norway, whom they later defeated in the semis to advance to the final against Switzerland. In the gold medal match, Morris and Lawes began to pull away from the Swiss, after capturing two points at the end of the fifth end. Switzerland ultimately conceded at the end of the sixth after Canada took a commanding 10-3 lead. Their success was a bright spot for Canadian curling, as both the men and women’s teams struggled with consistency and accuracy against a strong field, failing to medal in the process.
Curling has been part of both of Morris and Lawes’ lives since they were small children. For Lawes, it started at four, when she played at family fun bonspiel, while Morris remembers a moment from the Navy Curling Club in Ottawa.
“I started when I was five years old,” he says. “My dad put me on a curling rock and threw me down the ice!”
The sport followed him into his teens and twenties where he played four years for the Laurier Golden Hawks and picked up some cooking skills in the process.
“It was really good at helping me develop because there was a lot of really good teams that we ran into and gave us some really good games. It allowed me to develop my own skills,” Morris says. “We've had such a good pedigree of curlers at Laurier – before me, (it was) Paul Webster, who’s now part of the national training program. (There were also) Danielle Inglis and Holly Nicoll – some great curlers there that have really helped developed the program into what it is now.”
Morris was a multi-sport athlete at Laurier, also playing varsity baseball and flag football. Since he graduated in 2003, the Golden Hawks have become a curling powerhouse, capturing five OUA and two U SPORTS men’s championships. Lawes’ nephew, Connor currently plays for the team.
Now a firefighter with Rocky View Fire Services outside of Calgary, Morris says during his time in Waterloo, Ont., he learned valuable life lessons out of the classroom and off the rink
“One thing I really learned at Laurier, it taught me to be a really great human being and it taught me some really good life skills because I had never lived away from home,” Morris says. “It taught me a lot about how to interact socially, and just really good life skills.”
U SPORTS alumni bring home hardware from Pyeongchang
Lawes and Morris weren’t the only U SPORTS alumni who brought back hardware from South Korea – of the 62 who either competed for or attended a U SPORTS institution, 13 brought home medals.
- Kaitlyn Lawes, Manitoba and John Morris, Laurier (mixed doubles curling)
- Alex Kopacz, Western (two-man bobsleigh)
- Tessa Virtue, Windsor (ice dance and team event)
- Eric Radford, York (figure skating team event)
- Melodie Daoust, McGill; Natalie Spooner, UOIT; Shannon Szabados, MacEwan; Brianne Jenner, Calgary (women’s hockey)
- Tristan Walker, Calgary (luge)
- Eric Radford, York (pairs figure skating)
- Alex Gough, Calgary (luge)
- Pascal Dion, UQAM (short track speed skating)
- Francois Hamelin, UQAM (short track speed skating)
Covering all the podium achievements for Team Canada was another notable U SPORTS alumni: Former Laval Rouge et Or and current Kansas City Chiefs offensive guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif served as a broadcaster for Radio Canada, the French-language equivalent of the CBC.
Duvernay-Tardif, who completed his third season with the Chiefs in 2017, will graduate from medical school at Laval this spring.
Megan is a Master of Journalism student at Carleton University. For the past seven years, she has covered university sports at the provincial, national and international level. In July 2015, she was selected as one of 12 student sports journalists from around the world for the FISU Young Reporters Program to cover the 28th Summer Universiade in Gwangju, South Korea. Megan's long term goal is to work as a foreign correspondent.
Follow Megan on Twitter @megom8
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