Feature: Exciting future ahead for Mixed Doubles

  • Mixed Doubles curling is becoming an increasingly popular discipline around the world Photo: WCF/Alina Pavlyuchik

These are important times for Mixed Doubles, the exciting new version of curling that features just two players - one female and one male - in a fast-moving version of the game.

The eighth World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship has recently concluded in Sochi, with the Hungarian duo of Zsolt Kiss and Dorottya Palancsa winning (for the second time) - rather than a team from one of curling's powerhouse nations.

The next big stepping stone for Mixed Doubles Curling comes at the beginning of June, when the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) event specialists will decide whether to elevate it onto the Olympic programme.

In such momentous times, World Curling has taken a close look at Mixed Doubles, through the eyes of two people who have watched more Mixed Doubles Curling than most - World Curling TV (WCTV) commentators Sara Carlsson and Sander Roelvaag, and Calgary Winter Club former President Brenda Rogers, where a successful grass-roots programme has been recruiting newcomers to the sport for over three years.

WCTV commentators Sara Carlsson and Sander Roelvaag Photo: WCF/Richard Gray
Sara is a former world champion in her own right - although she concedes she has only managed to come second in the Swedish Mixed Doubles Championship so far.

She has commentated all four times that WCTV has covered the World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship live. On it's progress over the years, she said: "You're getting more teams with really good players. These teams have really put so much effort into it - they have developed tactics and the shot-making is better too. They're not just playing the freeze all the time, but more developed tactics by the team with hammer, keeping it more open and playing more run-backs and spreading things apart a bit more."

She continued: "That means that something happens. Four years ago you would have a freeze, then a freeze, a freeze and then a guard and that would be your score of one point. That would be the call, but it's more interesting now with teams playing different shots, giving different scenarios. Now ends are not going to end up pretty much the same all the time."
Sander, himself a multi-medallist in curling, including gold for his native Norway at the 2015 World University Games, shares Sara's enthusiasm for how the game is developing.

He said: "I like Mixed Doubles - it's a lot of fun and you get a lot of action right away."

He added: "I'd like to see more and more higher quality players at the World Mixed Doubles and I think Olympic participation is crucial for that."

There are many ways that Mixed Doubles can be developed, and not surprisingly, Sara and Sander have ideas about that too.

Sara made a telling point when she said: "Good ice is crucial to Mixed Doubles curling. If you are going to have tricky ice and no sweepers and only two players then it's going to be so hard to produce good curling. The teams were really loving the ice in Sochi which made a huge difference to the quality of the games."

She also said: "I would love if it was a bit more interesting from the spectators' point of view. Now, you don't know who's shot, you don't hear anything. A shot is made and there is no reaction so you won't know until an end is over who's good or bad. You could use technology to show who's shot stone, or overhead cameras. Different things have been discussed - we just need to be trying something that makes it different."

They were both aware of the experiments used at a trial event during the World Junior Championships earlier in the season, which involved lights, music, synchronised deliveries and other innovations, under the supervision of WCF Vice-President Hugh Millikin.

About that, Sander said: "Hugh's trying some new rules and I think you've got to throw everything at it. If it doesn't work...well, we've tried." He added: "Mixed Doubles right now is close to the normal game but maybe we should make a whole different discipline with allotted times, making more of a show with light-shows and music to make it more entertaining. As Hugh has said before, we could make it the beach volleyball of the Winter Olympics."
Turning to grass-roots activities, in Canada the Calgary Winter Club has a Mixed Doubles success story, as Brenda Rogers (pictured right), who is one of the WCF's top umpires when she's not helping run her club, explains.

"We've completed three years of a Mixed Doubles programme of upwards of twelve teams that we run in two eight-week sessions - eight weeks before Christmas and eight after Christmas. We were the first league in Canada and it's growing - absolutely. There's a lot of interest in getting families involved and we've got people coming from other sports who are not curlers taking it up. They love it and they're enjoying it - two tennis players have even joined our men's curling league with another team, they like it so much."

Brenda explains that, for her club, it really has been an easy entry into the sport for some people. But there is another bonus, for existing curlers.

She explained:"The other thing it's done is that some of our curlers who are normally front end players and who have never had the opportunity of playing in the house, are coming into the house now and they are advancing."

The Calgary Winter Club Mixed Doubles programme enjoys a peak Saturday morning slot and that gives another advantage. Brenda said: "Because we're multi-sports we might have parents playing whose children are doing something else at the club at the same time".
Now, the future direction of Mixed Doubles is in the hands of the IOC.

During the Sochi Championship, IOC President Thomas Bach joined Russian Federation Deputy Prime Minister and President of the Russian Olympic Committee, Alexander Zhukov, to see for themselves what Mixed Doubles can offer.

They were hosted by WCF President Kate Caithness and she said: "I was delighted to be able to host President Bach and Russian Olympic President Zhukov personally during this event. They were able to see first-hand what an exciting addition Mixed Doubles Curling could be to the Olympic programme.”

The way forward for the discipline will now be decided in Lausanne, Switzerland at the start of June. Whatever the outcome, this discipline is certainly growing fast and become an increasingly attractive addition to the sport of curling.
WCF President Kate Caithness welcomed IOC President Thomas Bach (right) and Russian Federation Deputy Prime Minister and President of the Russian Olympic Committee, Alexander Zhukov (left) to the World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship 2015 in Sochi, Russia Photo: WCF/Alina Pavlyuchik