Canmore hosting 36 top curling teams for Qualico Mixed Doubles Classic

Olympian John Morris has made it clear he plans to focus on mixed doubles curling since winning a gold medal in mixed doubles at the 2018 Winter Olympics.  

This weekend, the local curling legend is focused on bringing mixed doubles to Canmore, Alta., where he now lives, with the second annual Qualico Mixed Doubles Classic.

It's being held this weekend at the Canmore Golf and Curling Club and the Banff Curling Club. 

There are 36 teams vying for $29,000 in prize money. The second annual event is considered the biggest mixed doubles event in the world and has drawn top curlers from Canada, the United States and around the world.

"This is the best field you'll see at any tournament all year, which is awesome," Morris said during a break between games. "I think it's just a sign of where mixed doubles is going. It's really getting a lot of popularity in the world."

For the tournament, Morris has teamed up with Rachel Homan of Ottawa; she was skip for the Canadian women's curling team at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

His regular partner is Kaitlyn Lawes — the two won mixed doubles gold together in 2018, and both have won Olympic gold in both mixed and team curling. But as Morris has said before, he's willing to work with more than one partner in order to keep focused on mixed doubles. 

"It's a really exciting sport for curling," he said. "It's very active, very offensive, a lot of action. It's only one and a half hours. The younger generation is really picking up on it. The provincials this year in Alberta, I think 90 per cent of teams were under 20, I heard. So, pretty cool for a young generation of curlers."

The mixed doubles championship is co-hosted by the Banff and Canmore curling clubs and is welcoming teams from the U.S., U.K., Australia, Japan, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Norway, Estonia, and Hungary. 

Hala Ghonaim/CBC

Dennis Graham, one of the organizers, says two-on-two curling is a whole new game for players and spectators.

"We go for 96 minutes here, where a traditional will be over two hours often, and so it's fast paced with two people and quicker in our event. We have music playing while they're out there curling, which a lot of curlers really enjoy. So it's bringing a lot of enjoyment to the game."

Holman, who is visiting Canmore for the first time, says mixed doubles just keeps getting more popular.

"You can kind of see the numbers exploding, especially in the youth. So it's great to see them jump onto it. Hopefully that keeps going," she said. "Another route you can go, either four person or two-person mixed doubles, there are more options in curling now."

Canmore is known for mountain sports, but there's a strong curling community, according to Mayor John Borrowman, who says this event will bring even more attention to the towns of Canmore and Banff, and that having some local club teams compete against Olympians is part of the fun.

"I absolutely expect this to be an annual event and just keep going," he said. "It brings a lot of focus to some of the great things you can do here in Canmore. Everybody knows about skiing and other mountain sports, so it's really good for the town and for the sport of curling."

Morris says he's thrilled that this tournament has been able to be bring the best curlers in the world to the mountains. 

"It's really exciting," he said. "We get to show everyone else from all over the world our favourite place in Alberta here."

The finals will be held in Banff this Sunday.