Laing and Jones to make world mixed doubles curling debut

By Donna Spencer

Steeped in international curling experience, Jennifer Jones and Brent Laing are about to embark on something new.

The couple have a combined nine national championships, five world titles, three Olympic appearances and an Olympic gold medal between them in men’s and women’s team curling.

The husband and wife duo will represent Canada for the first time at the world mixed doubles championship in an arena that elicits mixed emotions for both.

“We are rookies at the world mixed doubles, no question, but I think we can draw on all our other experiences in four-person play for sure,” Laing said.

Jones and Laing from Horseshoe Valley, Ont., open the 20-country championship Saturday morning (Friday evening ET) in Gangneung, South Korea, against 2021 champions Bruce Mouat and Jennifer Dodds of Scotland.

“Brent and I, we’ve put a lot of work into this the last few years,” Jones said. “Really tried to play as much as we can while balancing the four-person teams.

“You see some married couples don’t continue to play mixed doubles. We’ve lasted awhile. One of the best parts about it is, Brent always has my back. He’s my partner in life and my partner on the ice.

“I think there’s a lot of benefits to it. You’re also a lot more free to talk the way you want to talk because it’s also your partner. One thing we’ve worked on is what we need to hear and how we want to say it.”

The two want to create winning curling memories at Gangneung Curling Centre.

Laing played second for Kevin Koe’s team that lost the Olympic men’s bronze-medal game there in 2018.

“There’s some scar tissue, no question,” Laing said.

Jones also finished fourth at the 2009 women’s world curling championship there.

“I don’t think Brent and I both got the results we wanted in this venue, so it’s a way to go back and hopefully play as well as we can and enjoy it and get on that podium,” Jones said.

Canada claimed the first Olympic mixed doubles gold medal in that arena, however, when John Morris and Kaitlyn Lawes took it in 2018.

“Hopefully we have more the Johnny Mo experience than the Team Koe experience in that building,” Laing said.

After a two-pool round robin, the top three teams in each advance to a qualification round.

The top seeds in each pool earn byes to the April 28 semifinals. The medal games are April 29.

Jones and Laing will be coached by four-time men’s world champion Glenn Howard and Curling Canada’s mixed doubles manager Scott Pfeifer, who also was Koe’s alternate in 2018.

Howard won a pair of men’s world titles with Laing and also coached Jones’ women’s team this season. Mixed doubles coaching is new for him.

“What I’m going to bring to the team is familiarity for both,” Howard said.

“They know what they’re getting. In my case, I like to win. That’s what we’re going for. We’re going there to win the whole darn thing.”

Jones, the 2014 Olympic women’s champion, is accustomed to throwing last stones and making strategy decisions as a skip.

A front-end player in team curling, Laing’s had to adjust to a magnified role in mixed doubles.

“When things get tight, which they always do, and things go the wrong direction, which in mixed doubles they do often, personally I have to remember to come back to earth,” he said. “I can’t disappear.

“I have a lot more impact on the game.

“It’s awesome to know that Jen throws after me in the end. I still have one of, if not the greatest ever, to clean up my mess.”

The world senior men’s and women’s championships at the Gangneung Hockey Centre run concurrently with the mixed doubles.

Saskatoon’s Sherry Anderson chases a third senior women’s crown after victories in 2018 and 2019.

Ottawa’s Howard Rajala will skip Canada in the men’s senior championship for the first time.

Canada has never won a world mixed doubles championship in its 14-year history.

Joanne Courtney and Reid Carruthers in 2017, and Jocelyn Peterman and Brett Gallant in 2019, were silver medallists.

The COVID-19 pandemic was hard on the discipline domestically. Both the 2020 and 2022 national championships and last year’s Olympic trials were cancelled.

Curling Canada hand-picked Morris and Rachel Homan to compete in the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, where they finished fifth.

World and Olympic gold medals have become harder for Canada to win because of the recent rise of Europeans and Asians in the sport.

Non-traditional curling countries see opportunity to win in mixed doubles, because of its newness and smaller-scale financial investment.

“It used to be that Canada could go over and play pretty well and win and that’s just not the case anymore,” Laing explained. “It has nothing to do with Canada being worse. It has everything to do with there are more teams that are at the top level.”

While this year’s mixed doubles field is sprinkled with names who also competed in the men’s and women’s world championships, Estonia is an example of a country going all-in on mixed doubles

Marie Kaldvee and Harri Lill rank No. 4 in the world.

“They’re very, very strong,” Jones said. “They came to almost every Canadian event that we were at.”

The 48-year-old Jones sees the end of her curling career on the horizon.

Daughters Isabella and Skyla being able to watch from home as their parents compete together on a world curling stage is why she’ll treasure wearing the Maple Leaf in mixed doubles.

“I think it’s something that’s very, very special to us,” she said.

Games are available to watch on the World Curling Federation’s streaming service.