Rachel Homan and John Morris hug after a shotTHE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Australia stuns Morris and Homan in mixed doubles to set up a must-win match to advance to semis

It was a stunner, from start to finish. And when the final stone had come to rest, Australia had an extra end 10-8 win that put Canada’s mixed doubles playoff hopes in jeopardy at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games.

Australians Tahli Gill, who was almost sent home earlier in the day after a positive COVID test, and Dean Hewitt stunned Team Canada with three in the first end followed by three straight steals for what looked like an insurmountable 7-0 lead.

Rachel Homan and John Morris, refusing to panic, had a stunner of their own, scoring four in the fifth end, three in the seventh and a steal in eight to tie the game and force the extra end. But when it came down to the final stone, Homan’s draw to the four foot slid through the house, handing Australia the winning point.

Rachel Homan yells while calling the shot
Canada’s Rachel Homan directs the sweep during preliminary round mixed curling against Czech Republic Sunday, February 6, 2022 at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

‘We got caught on the speed on my last shot,” Homan said. “We thought it was perfect, but it was quicker in the middle, so we just have to take it, learn from it and move on. We did everything we could in the second half to fight back.  We fought and never gave up.”

The loss prevented Canada from possibly clinching a playoff berth and Morris and Homan now have to face unbeaten Italy in their final game of the round robin. Canada, Norway and Great Britain are tied at 5-3 behind 8-0 Italy with Sweden at 5-4. Italy, Norway and Great Britain have qualified for the four-team playoff. Canada must beat Italy to get into the semifinals.

“We always knew we would have to beat Italy,” said Homan.

“It’s put us in a bit of a pickle here so we really have to come out strong tomorrow because our lives depend on it,” added Morris.

Gill and Hewitt, who were coached by Morris in the months leading up to Australia’s Olympic debut, jumped all over another slow start by Homan and Morris, taking advantage of their misses to take control of the house early to score in the first four ends.

The rocky start prompted Homan and Morris to use their powerplay in the third end in a desperate attempt to get back into the game. Even that didn’t work. A Hewitt double takeout and a well-placed draw by Gill forced Homan to try a difficult double. That failed and Australia stole a single.

“We knew they were going to be tough, they’re a better team than their record shows this week,” said Morris. “We couldn’t buy anything in the first four. But we got some breaks and played a hell of a back four…but could never catch up.”

Rachel Homan and John Morris sweep a stone
Canada’s Rachel Homan and John Morris sweep during preliminary round mixed curling against Czech Republic Sunday, February 6, 2022 at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

The Australians had spent the last five months in Canmore training under Morris and they showed early that they had been excellent students, rarely missing while Homan and Morris struggled with their weight.

The Australians’ first real misses, one each by Hewitt and Gill, opened the door for Canada to score four in the fifth end. Three more in the seventh put the pressure on the Australians. With her final stone in eight, facing two Canadian counters, Gill elected to try a hit and stick rather than a draw to the eight foot. Her shooter rolled out to give Canada a steal and force the extra end.

It was Australia’s second straight win after seven losses and came after an emotional morning in which they had packed their bags and thought they were heading home after Gill tested positive for a second time. The Olympic medical committee determined her PCR test was within allowable standards and allowed the team to stay and continue playing.

They promptly went out and beat Switzerland for their first win.