Team North America widens lead to 30-6 after Mixed Doubles

Susan O’Connor of Calgary knows mixed doubles curling. Matter of fact, she knows mixed curling, having won two Canadian championships. The second of those, in 2008 in her hometown, earned her a trip, along with her skip Dean Ross, to the very first World Mixed Doubles championship at Vierumaki, Finland. It was a nice trip, O’Connor says now, but she’s less enthralled by the discipline conceived as a possible third curling entry on the Olympic Games program. “It’s just not curling,” she was saying Thursday afternoon, moments after vacating the Servus Credit Union Place ice surface on which she and Team North America partner Shawn Rojeski recorded one of three opening victories in the World Financial Group Continental Cup mixed doubles. “I don’t think it’s curling,” said O’Connor, who played third last February for the Canadian Olympic silver-winning juggernaut skipped by Cheryl Bernard. “It doesn’t have any kind of a team aspect where you have the communication thing. I mean, you try your best, the two of you, but . . . it’s a fun gimmick. “To me it’s not curling. Maybe because we’re from Canada we’re still ingrained with the team aspect. With countries that are just getting into curling, everything is new to them, right?” She admitted she hears it’s a possible future Olympic discipline but she shows no sign of being impressed by the fact. “I felt the same way at the first Worlds,” said O’Connor. “It was new for everybody then. It was the very first Worlds for mixed doubles. “But it was difficult, especially having won a Canadian title with a four-member team. Then only two of us got to go to the Worlds to play an entirely different event. “I guess it was a good experience. We only got fifth, we didn’t medal. That was disappointing. But everybody was in the same boat. Walking in there and not really knowing. “Who knows? Maybe that little bit of experience, wearing the Maple Leaf on your back, helped me at the Olympics. I don’t know. Maybe.”

Thomas Ulsrud and Bingyu Wang discuss strategy.

O’Connor and Rojeski teamed to defeat Thomas Ulsrud (Norway) and Bingyu Wang (China) 7-6 in the tightest of three mixed doubles openers on the Continental Cup docket. Elsewhere, Canadian champion Jennifer Jones and Carter Rycroft hammered Torger Nergaard (Norway) and Yan Zhou (China) 12-4 and Edmonton’s Kevin Martin, the Olympic gold winner combined with Ann Swisshelm of the U.S. to defeat Niklas Edin (Sweden) and Monika Wagner (Germany) 6-4. The sweep gave North America 18 points and a comfortable 30-6 lead heading into Thursday’s round of men’s team play at 7:30 p.m. MST. O’Connor eschewed any preference of singles to mixed doubles as an Olympic choice. “I wouldn’t prefer either one,” she said. “I understand the reason why they don’t want to go to a full mixed team event. But, to me, if they were going to put in another event I’d rather see an actual team event.” Rojeski, her partner from Chisholm, Minn., said he favoured singles as a possible new Olympic discipline. “That’s where you’re going to get your skill shots and your skill people,” said Rojeski. “A step away from the rest of the crew. That’s in my opinion.” Rojeski first played mixed doubles at the 2006 Continental Cup in Chilliwack. He also played singles in the same event. “But we played with sweepers then,” he said. “Now, it’s a two-person event. When you have sweepers you can concentrate on the shot totally. With only one sweeper and half the sheet to sweep on you have to be very much more precise. It’s far more challenging. “In a format likes this, a fun event, everybody who has played it likes it. But I know at the World mixed two people fell down and injured themselves running out to sweep. I think that has to be taken into consideration.” Rojeski admitted her knew the event wasn’t his partner’s favourite. “But she speaks from experience and still we had a lot of fun with it,” he said. O’Connor is playing in her first Continental Cup. “We’ve won a couple so, sure, it was good to get out on the ice here,” she admitted. “Every time you can be out there on arena ice it makes you more comfortable and that’s a nice thing for us because we have a very busy schedule coming up and we’ll get lots of opportunities to play on arena ice which other teams in Alberta are not getting.” But she suggested an early North American lead wasn’t much of an indication of how the remaining matches would pan out. “This event really is back-end weighted so running up the big lead is great for confidence and getting on a roll but it’s a long, long weekend yet,” said O’Connor. “It looks like the pressure is going to build in those later days. And they are leaving $13,000 back for the last skins game so there’s more emphasis on the finish and that will mean something no matter what.” For the record, the World Mixed doubles has been played three times — in 2008 (Vierumaki), 2009 (Cortina d’Ampezzo) and 2010 (Chelyabinsk, Russia). Swiss duos have won two gold medals and Russia won last season. Finland, Hungary and New Zealand have won silver medals, while Sweden, Canada and China have claimed bronze.