GANGNEUNG, South Korea — Two months ago, they weren’t even a team.
Six weeks ago, they’d yet to hold a single practice together.
And now? Well, Tuesday was quite a day.
Tuesday was the day Winnipeg’s Kaitlyn Lawes and Winnipeg-born John Morris — defying all odds and even simple common sense — became two-time Olympic gold medallists.
Lawes and partner Morris defeated Switzerland 10-3 in the gold-medal final Tuesday night (Korea time) to become the first-ever gold medallists in the new Olympic discipline of mixed doubles curling.
It is the second consecutive Games Lawes has won Olympic gold, adding to the gold she won in women’s curling in Sochi in 2014 as third for Jennifer Jones.
"It sounds surreal," Lawes said after the game, "and I don’t know if that will ever really sink in."
It’s also the second gold medal for Morris, who previously won gold in men’s curling in Vancouver in 2010 as third for Kevin Martin.
How amped up was Morris for this game? Well, he’d no sooner won Olympic gold than he was already eyeing his next opponent, actor Mr. T, who’d been tweeting during this event about how much he was enjoying watching curling.
"We would accept a challenge from Mr. T," announced Morris.
"Not an arm-wrestling challenge, a mixed doubles curling challenge if he’s around."
With the win, Lawes and Morris became the first curlers from Canada to win two gold medals — and just the sixth curlers in history to become double gold medallists.
They did it, amazingly enough, in the grand total of just 22 games together, coming together quickly in December after Morris lost his previous partner, Rachel Homan, when she won the right to represent Canada here in women’s curling.
They dodged some big bullets at critical moments along the way to keep this train on the tracks.
Let history record that five weeks ago, at the Canadian mixed doubles trials in Portage la Prairie, Lawes and Morris were on the verge of falling to 2-4 and being eliminated from playoff contention when they stole the final end and the win against Chelsea Carey and Colin Hodgson.
Take away that steal and that come-from-behind victory and you would also have to take away everything that happened afterward: the remarkable run that followed that win over Carey and Hodgson, culminating with Lawes and Morris winning the trials final in Portage; the eight-game winning streak Lawes and Morris put together here after losing their opening game last Thursday; and finally — and most assuredly — that historic gold-medal-winning victory Tuesday night.
In what was a showdown between two of the finest shotmakers in the game in Lawes and Morris versus two of the most experienced mixed doubles players in the world in Switzerland’s Martin Rios and Jenny Perret, it was good old-fashioned shotmaking — and one key miss from the Swiss — that won the day.
With the game tied 2-2 and Canada lying a pile in the four-foot in the third end, Rios shockingly flashed a takeout attempt with his final stone of the end. That put a four-ender in play for Canada, and two rocks later, that is exactly the opportunity that was presented to Lawes as she climbed into the hack for the final rock of the end.
But with the game — and gold — on the line, there came a script you couldn’t make up.
Lawes picked up her final rock to clean it — only to find the handle had become loose.
It had the makings of one of those here-we-go-again moments for Lawes, who’s struggled in big games over the years and at one point in the gold-medal game in Sochi was curling just 18 per cent.
But not this time. Because this time, instead of becoming flustered, Lawes drew a deep breath and composed herself as an ice technician came out and tightened the handle.
Then Lawes climbed back into the hack and won gold for Canada, authoring a perfect raised takeout to score a four-ender from which Canada would never look back.
With that, Lawes joins a tiny group of Manitobans to have ever won two Olympic golds. There’s a handful of Winnipeggers who have authored the trick — men’s hockey player Jonathan Toews also has two golds, for instance, while women’s hockey player Jennifer Botterill has three golds and a silver.
But what is a monument to just how rare what Lawes has accomplished in Korea is that not even our province’s two most celebrated Olympians — Cindy Klassen and Clara Hughes — can say they won two Olympic gold. Hughes has a gold, a silver and four bronze, while Klassen has a gold, two silver and three bronze.
That’s an incredible Olympic haul by both women, the stuff of first ballot hall of fame inductions. But what it is not is two golds and it says a lot that at age 29, Lawes now has bragging rights of a sort.
The mind boggles at how many more she might win. Curlers in Canada traditionally don’t peak until they’re well into their 30s or 40s and it says something about where Lawes is in her career arc right now that she still has a world curling championship to contest later this spring when she retakes her job as third for Jones, who won the Scotties a couple weeks ago with Shannon Birchard as Lawes’ replacement.
While they had less experience in mixed doubles than any other team in this field, in the end Lawes and Morris made up for it by simply overwhelming their opponents with superior ability.
They led the field in shooting percentage through the round robin and throttled their opponents on the scoreboard, outscoring them by a combined score of 70-33.
With that, a discipline that Canada had only medalled twice at previously in the 10-year history of the world mixed doubles championship — and never before won — is suddenly the source of our country’s third gold medal at these Games.
It is all sweet vindication for another Winnipegger, Jeff Stoughton, who was given the unenviable task as national mixed doubles coach three years ago of building a mixed doubles program from the ground up.
"In the grand scheme of things, it’s a huge accomplishment," said Stoughton. "To say you were a part of the first ever Olympic mixed doubles championship team is pretty darn special.
"Three years ago we were scrambling to figure out what the heck we were going to do. And now we have two champions here who are going to have a beautiful gold medal put around their necks tomorrow night."
Stoughton thinks Canada’s gold-medal victory — and all the unprecedented exposure mixed doubles received the past week — is going to lead to a big spike in participation levels in Canada for what is still an obscure discipline.
If that happens, the age of the mixed doubles specialists — which already exists in Europe — could soon be upon us in Canada.
But if there’s a message out of what happened over the last six days — and the last two months — it’s that in the end, two Canadians throwing their best will always be the ones to beat on a sheet of curling ice, no matter what the discipline.