It's do or die now for Rachel Homan
And a Canadian curling legend is trying to help knock her out
By Devin Heroux, CBC Sports
There's no margin for error anymore for Rachel Homan.
After a fourth loss in the Olympic women's curling tournament on Tuesday, the Canadian skip and her team must win their final two round-robin games to have a chance of advancing to the medal round. If they don't, they would be the first Canadian rink to fail to reach the semifinals at the Olympics.
With a 3-4 record in a crowded field, Homan's team faces a quagmire of potential scenarios — too many to know exactly what needs to happen among the other teams for Canada to move on. But this much is clear — if Homan's team loses again, they're out.
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The first pressure-packed test comes Wednesday morning in South Korea (Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET) against Great Britain. Eve Muirhead and her rink started slow but have found their rhythm to climb to 5-3.
Adding intrigue to this already dramatic matchup is the presence of a Canadian curling legend on the British side — four-time Brier and world champion Glenn Howard is coaching Muirhead's team.
It's nearing two years since Howard, from Midland, Ont., began working with the British rink. Muirhead is playing in her third Olympics. She missed the podium in Vancouver before capturing bronze in Sochi.
Thinking her team could benefit from his tactical and strategic expertise, Muirhead asked Howard via email in the spring of 2016 to consider coaching them.
Now the Canadian is in the awkward position of helping another country try to dash the hopes of his own curling-crazed nation.
"I can't deny there are mixed emotions," Howard says. "I have Great Britain colours on now, though, and I'm proud of that. I have a job to do and that job is to get as many wins as possible. If it means beating Canada, that's what we have to do."
Howard emphasizes he's a Canadian through and through, and he always cheers on his home country — until now.
"I don't care what sport it's in, I'm always rooting for Canada," he says. "But now I can't. I'm rooting for Great Britain."
Muirhead feels her team has improved drastically since Howard joined them, pointing to his experience and curling wisdom as a key part of their success.
"Put it this way — I'd rather have him in my corner then someone else's corner," she says.
Howard has played more times at the Brier than anyone in history — 218 games over 17 appearances at Canada's national men's curling championship. He has won the title on four occasions — the last two as a skip — and went on to win the world championship each time.
He knows all about the great expectations of representing Canada on the international stage, and he says there's nothing quite like wearing the red and white at big events.
"The maple leaf is heavy on your back," he says. "And so you have to remind yourself that you're still just curling and go out there and make shots. It's hard to do sometimes because you know those other teams are coming for you."
Howard says Canadians have to stop thinking they still dominate the game — the gap has closed between Canada and the rest of the world, and he points to these Olympics as a perfect example.
"If Canadians think they can walk over here and clean up, it's not going to happen. And I know for a fact [men's team skip] Kevin Koe and Rachel Homan know that's the case."
And so now, after spending his entire life curling in Canada and winning for Canada, Howard is trying to beat Canada. If he helps Muirhead deliver, it would end Homan's Olympic dream and signal a changing of the guard.
"That's just the way it is now," he says. "The Canadian public have to understand this. The parity across the world in curling has never been more apparent than it is right now."