It's curling gold or bust for Team Koe
Canadian men's teams have won Olympic title 3 straight times
By Devin Heroux, CBC Sports
The target is a maple leaf and the world is coming for it. But Kevin Koe's Canadian men's curling team doesn't mind — in fact, they're embracing it.
"It's something we've grown accustomed to since we were young," Marc Kennedy said. "[Canada is] always favoured. Other teams look at you like, there's the team to beat."
Kennedy, the team's third, would know. He's making his second trip to the Olympics alongside lead Ben Hebert. Both were part of Kevin Martin's gold medal-winning team eight years ago at the Vancouver Olympics. They went undefeated to win it all.
There's pressure. Expectations. It's gold or bust if you're a Canadian curler. The men's team has won Olympic gold three consecutive times.
VIDEO | Team Koe thrives on pressure
Koe's team begins its podium pursuit Wednesday morning in South Korea (Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET) with its opening game against Italy.
Hebert relishes being the team to beat.
"I love it. It's the best," he said. "If you're the favourite, there's a reason for it."
Since Hebert and Kennedy won gold eight years ago in Vancouver, the gap between Canada and the rest of the world has closed. This is a talent-filled event, with Sweden's Niklas Edin posing the greatest threat to Canada. He's a two-time world champion, has spent most of the last four years curling in Canada and is looking for his big breakthrough at these Games.
Switzerland, Norway, Great Britain, the United States and Korea will also present challenges.
Koe, the stoic skip known for his cool and reserved demeanour, isn't flinching at the thought of what his team is up against.
"It's been remarkably calm. Probably because we haven't played yet. There will be some nerves but there's no better preparation then winning the Canadian Olympic trials," he said.
Many Canadian curlers agree — the national Olympic trials are the most pressure they'll face in their careers. The stakes are high — every Canadian curling trials winner has gone on to win an Olympic medal.
"Getting through that event, the way we won it, prepared us the best it could," Koe said.
He had to make a difficult draw to the four-foot to realize his Olympic dream. It took everything the team had and then some, with Hebert and lead Brent Laing sweeping furiously to get the rock there. It was heart stopping. But they did it, and that bodes well for them now that the Olympic pressure is on.
"We're not the most consistent team out there, but when it's the big event we play our best. And this is the biggest event there is," Koe said.
There's a wealth of experience between Koe, Kennedy, Laing and Hebert. They've won a swath of important games. They've suffered tough losses too. It's the reality of curling in Canada. And it's what Curling Canada wants — for their Olympic representatives to be battled tested.
Now Koe's team just wants to get the tournament started.
"We had a great training week in Japan. We were making everything over there. We're coming in with a lot of confidence," Koe said.
When Canada takes to the ice in its first game against Italy, more than 40 family members and friends will be inside the Gangneung Curling Centre cheering them on.
VIDEO | Kevin Koe draws strength from family in Yellowknife
In the middle of it all will be Laing's wife — 2014 Olympic gold medallist Jennifer Jones.
Four years ago it was Laing in the stands watching Jones win gold. Now the roles are reversed.
"It's a dream. It's overwhelming and emotional," he said. "Watching her win in 2014 was so amazing but it was also a reminder I hadn't done this yet."
Laing says they've had a number of meaningful conversations about her Olympic experience over the last few weeks leading to this moment — but now their time together is going to be very limited.
"She knows better than anybody what it's like. We're going to be selfish with our time this next week," he said.
Laing had imagined this experience for himself for a long time — and yet in a lot of ways he never imagined it coming to fruition.
"I've lived a pretty blessed life. When you finally sit down and look back, and it won't be this week, but when I do it, it's pretty unbelievable."