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Continental Cup of Curling the test tube for mixed doubles Olympic bid

01/09/2015 06:36 EST | Updated 03/11/2015 05:59 EDT
CALGARY - The Continental Cup of Curling served as an incubator for mixed doubles curling. The World Curling Federation believes the fast-forward version of the sport has matured enough for inclusion into the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The WCF has asked the International Olympic Committee to add mixed doubles to the curling menu in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The IOC's programme commission is expected to decide on it and other proposed sports in April.

A team consisting of just a male and female curler sliding out of the hack and chasing their own rocks down the ice is certainly a novelty for those who follow the sport.

Mixed doubles has been part of the World Financial Group Continental Cup of Curling's format since the event's inception in 2002.

To give mixed doubles more legitimacy and thus more consideration by the IOC, the WCF introduced a world championship in 2008.

The eighth world mixed doubles championship will be in Sochi, Russia, in April at the same time the IOC is meeting there.

"We have done our homework," WCF president Kate Caithness told The Associated Press in 2013. "Hopefully it will appeal to the IOC."

The world's top curlers are invited to the Continental Cup and for most, it's the only time they ever play mixed doubles.

Team Canada and Team Europe square off in a second round of mixed doubles Saturday at this year's event here.

"It's an interesting concept," said E.J. Harnden, who plays second for Olympic champion Brad Jacobs.

"It's fun for the audience and fans to watch. There's a lot of action, big ends back and forth. I think the more we can get the sport of curling in the spotlight and on the international stage, more television coverage, more awareness is great for the game of curling."

Swedish skip Niklas Edin isn't a fan of mixed doubles. The Olympic bronze medallist says if the IOC adds another curling event to the Winter Games, he'd prefer full mixed gender teams.

"It's too much up to chance. You have no sweepers. It's boring to watch actually," Edin stated. "I see how other teams like it, but I don't think it's a good sport for the Olympics.

"You don't get good ice conditions when you don't have sweepers and you throw (to) one side (of the ice) all the time. You see so many big mistakes. The quality is too low."

What mixed doubles has working in its favour for Olympic inclusion is traditional curling countries don't dominate it.

Canada's stars don't have time to play in it because of their team commitments. Canada has won just one medal — a bronze — in the seven-year history of the world championship.

Hungary won a world title in 2013 with Spain, New Zealand, France, and Austria also finishing on the podium in other years.

Stremlaw says there are several arguments in favour of mixed doubles being in the Olympics. There'd be enough ice time to fit it into the 16 days of competition, it would add no more than two athletes per country and the mixed gender aspect would appeal to the IOC, which wants gender equality Olympic Games.

"The fact that it gives a chance to other curling nations to aspire to greatness, to aspire to podiums, the non-traditional ones, I think all of those things work in its favour in a massive way," Stremlaw said.

The CCA hosts an annual mixed doubles championship to qualify a team for the world championship, but the discipline hasn't been a high priority for the organization.

That would change quickly if the IOC gave it the green light for 2018. As a powerhouse country in the sport, there would be a sudden ramping up of mixed doubles in Canada.

"If it is a full-fledged Olympic sport, there's going to be massive changes I think in terms of training, what athletes are involved and certainly as the governing body, we're going to have to make further investments," Stremlaw said. "We're going to have pressure from Sport Canada, Own The Podium, Canadian Olympic Committee because there's going to be another Olympic medal.

"We'll have to set up a whole new system that will ensure podium excellence."

After winning gold in Sochi in February, Harnden and Jacobs third Ryan Fry could not imagine competing in men's curling and mixed doubles at the same Winter Games.

"I can't speak for everyone, but I would never try and play in both," Fry said. "It's definitely two different sports.

"The strategy and the athleticism and the type of relationship you need to have with your partner is a completely different dynamic than you have with your team."

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