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May 25, 2018

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Canada wins 1st Olympic gold in curling mixed doubles

GANGNEUNG, South Korea — With a triumphant hug and fist pump, Canada won the first-ever Olympic gold medal in curling mixed doubles, beating Switzerland 10-3 on Tuesday in front of a roaring crowd of jubilant Canadians.

The win over the defending world champions marked a historic moment for mixed doubles, which was making its Olympic debut at the Pyeongchang Games. Switzerland conceded the match early after falling too far behind, reaching out to shake their opponents' hands and prompting John Morris to hoist Canadian teammate Kaitlyn Lawes into the air with glee.

Mixed doubles, the livelier cousin to traditional single-gender curling, has proven very popular with players and fans. The matches last only 90 minutes as opposed to three hours in standard curling, and there are only two players on each team instead of four, meaning both curlers must always be switched on.

"I think that if someone's going to try curling for the first time, this mixed doubles is where it's at," Morris said. "It's quick, it's fast-paced, it's very athletic and it's so much fun to play — and you don't need four players. I'm really proud of us for coming here and helping put mixed doubles on the map."

Canada's big play came in the third end (ends are like baseball innings), when they had the last-throw advantage known as the hammer. Just as Lawes was preparing to throw the final stone, she called a timeout; the handle on her stone was loose and a technician hurried over to fix it. With that sorted out, Lawes launched forward, sending the rock coasting toward the house. The stone connected with the one Swiss rock left near the target, knocking it out of play and leaving Canada with four rocks within the house's rings, adding four points to their total.

Lawes and Morris shared a spirited high-five and the crowd broke out into a chant of, "GO, CANADA, GO!"

Switzerland struggled throughout the match. By the sixth end, they were down 8-3. Though they had the last-throw advantage, the Swiss flubbed the shot, giving Canada a steal of two points.

Though there were still two ends to go, Switzerland saw no way to come back from the deficit and conceded the game with a handshake. In curling, a team can choose to concede a game if they think they have little chance at victory, even when it's mathematically possible for them to win.

"I'm disappointed by my performance," Switzerland's Martin Rios said. "I just couldn't bring my best game today."

Switzerland earned the silver medal, while the bronze went to a pair of athletes from Russia, who beat Norway earlier Tuesday.

Morris and Lawes are a new team, having only competed together since the Olympic trials. But they've formed a quick bond on the ice, with Lawes praising Morris for his stellar communication and Morris praising Lawes for her fierce sweeping style.

"I call her Mighty Mouse," Morris said. "She's like a buck ten (110 pounds) and five feet tall but she can sweep better than a lot of men out there. She packs a big punch and she makes a lot of clutch shots."

Curling tends to gain a cult following every four years at the Olympics and this year is no different. Even actor Mr. T has been tweeting his love for the sport, much to the amusement of Morris.

"I think that the Olympics really helps expose new sports and unique sports to the rest of the world and for that to happen to curling, whether it's mixed doubles or team ... I think that's wonderful," Morris said. "And I think we would accept a challenge from Mr. T — not an arm wrestling challenge — but maybe a mixed doubles challenge if he's around."