Mixed doubles curling event brings hope for Ryerson Rams curler, Audrey Wallbank

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The 2018 Winter Olympic Games have officially come to an end and Ryerson Rams curling team member, Audrey Wallbank, was most excited to watch the mixed doubles  curling tournament.

“I play mixed doubles, as well as regular curling, so I watched the Olympic events as well as the Canadian qualifiers,” said Wallbank.

Wallbank, now 19 years old has been curling since the age of seven and was first taught all the basics by her grandfather back in her hometown, Woodville, Ont. The second-year occupational and public health student now curls for the Ryerson Rams women’s curling team and was named Second Team All-Star at this season’s OUA’s.

“When I was about 11, my grandfather introduced me to the provincial qualifier system and that was the extent of my competitive curling career for a few years,” said Wallbank.

Wallbank started as a skip and within two years of competing, she beat a team from Bobcaygeon to qualify for the regional competition. By 2012, the next season, the skip from the Bobcaygeon team invited Wallbank and another one of her teammates to curl with them, officially marking her first competitive season.

When asked how she got started in mixed doubles, Wallbank said, “My mother had been trying to convince me for years to join the mixed doubles event, but I was unsure I’d be able to find a boy I’d stand curling with. It wasn’t until the summer of 2014 at a curling skills camp that I found a match.”

Wallbank and Oliver Campbell, a student from Laurier University, attended the Stu Sells Mixed Doubles event in January. The pair came in 3rd, falling short against the Chinese Olympic mixed doubles team.

“The Chinese Olympic team were in Vancouver training for the Olympics and wanted extra practice so they participated in the Stu Sells competition,” said Wallbank. “We played them twice and we were only one point away from winning our second game against them.”

The Ryerson Rams’ women’s curling team brought home silver at the OUA playoffs last season, qualifying them to compete at the CIS competition. As a member of the all-women’s team and a mixed doubles curler outside of the university, Wallbank explains how the mixed doubles event differs from regular curling as it requires only two opposite-sex members as opposed to a same-gender team of four.

The Ryerson Rams women's curling team at the 2016-17 OUA's

Photo courtesy Ryerson Rams Athletics

“The speed of the game is also different because it is a smaller team,” she said. “Regular curling uses strategy decided on by the skip and the team’s judgement, whereas mixed doubles requires working together to call and make every single shot.”

For Team Canada, the mixed doubles in curling event was another opportunity to claim a gold medal for the country. Canada’s Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris dominated the match against Switzerland, defeating them 10-3. Though the event was successful, it also sparked controversy before the Games had even begun.

“A lot of people believe it is a waste of funds and not a sport that deserves light at the Olympics,” says Wallbank. “Some people just don’t like change.”

This year, the new events that received approval from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) executive board members were: big air in snowboarding, mass start in speed skating, mixed doubles in curling and a team skiing event.

The first time winter sport athletes from around the world came together to compete was in 1924. At the time, the only events were bobsleigh, figure skating, ice hockey, curling, cross-country skiing, nordic combined, ski jumping and speed skating. Though they are new to the international competition, people have been training and participating in these sports for years.

“Mixed doubles has been around for quite a few years, but mainly in the European countries,” said Wallbank. “There have been several world championships and international events, although it isn’t super popular in Canada.”

As reported by CBC Sports, the IOC considers factors such as youth appeal, TV and media interest and gender equality when deciding upon which new events to include.

The event made its debut this year, but will continue to be played in the 2022 Games, unless the IOC decides to make any changes, which can be done within the next three years. Wallbank is hopeful that the addition of the mixed doubles event will stay and give her a higher chance at experiencing the Olympics some day as an athlete.

“Most mixed doubles competitors are also on the regular curling tour,” she said. “The skills you acquire from each sport are the same so we have more opportunities to use them, which gives mixed double players a chance to excel.”

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