By Stuart Miller-Davis
Being thrust into throngs of fans following a game is an experience most athletes dread, but for 17-year-old Manotick curler Emily Deschenes and her teammates at the Youth Olympic Games, it was a flash of fame they couldn’t have enjoyed more.
Deschenes and her mixed curling team finished 7th overall at the Youth Olympics hosted in Lusanne, Switzerland in January. The highlight for the team was their moment in the spotlight.
“Our whole team was on the train coming back from one of our games and Swiss students that had been cheering us on swarmed us,” Deschenes said. “They wanted us to sign different things and wanted to be around us. I think by far that was an amazing moment just to see all these young kids looking up to us.”
“It was a really incredible opportunity for our young athletes to be seen as mentors and role models,” said Helen Radford, who coached Deschenes and the Canadian Youth Olympic curlers. “They were like rock stars to the Switzerland kids.”
Athletes between the ages of 15 and 18 years old came from 79 competing nations to compete in various disciplines in 16 different sports at the Games. Curlers competed in a pair of events, first teaming up with their fellow countrymen and then being split into 48 mixed-gendered doubles pairs with partners from different nations.
Deschenes and Canada finished at the top of their group by going undefeated in round robin play before falling to Japan in the quarterfinals by a score of 5-4. The Japanese eliminated Canada by scoring a point in the ninth end to end Canada’s run.
In the mixed nations event, Deschenes curled with Spain’s Oriol Gasto Jimenez. The duo defeated a pair of athletes from Brazil and New Zealand in the round of 48 before bowing out in the round of 24 against a team of athletes from France and Norway.
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“When we were curling over there it was just using all the experience we had (gotten) with our teammates (who) we met in April and got to know over the nine months,” Deschenes said. “Curling was an amazing time with, now, my best friends.”
Deschenes and teammates Jaedon Neuert of Winnipeg, Man., Lauren Rajala of Sudbury, Ont. and Nathan Young of Torbay, N.L. started training almost a year ago for their first opportunity to wear the Maple Leaf.
Duschenes told the Sportspage in an interview that the team’s members had to practise by themselves since they didn’t live in the same city (let alone province, for some). For Deschenes, there was the added challenge of transitioning from her typical skip position to playing third at the Games.
Part of the challenge to the position change for Deschenes was learning how to sweep.
“She really embraced (a new position),” Radford said. “(Deschenes) worked out lots off ice to strengthen her body to become physically a very good sweeper. She really embraced the opportunity in all aspects.”
Both Radford and Deschenes highlighted the event’s Olympic-style athletes’ village as another high-point of the event.
“They learn to interact with all people from all countries and sports,” Radford said. “Emily is very social, so, she was able to get to know athletes from other countries and sports. I know for the four athletes that went from Canada that they will definitely take their experiences and it will motivate them to want to go the Olympics as an adult.”
After her first taste of the international stage, Deschenes is eager to someday grace an international podium.
“Being at the Youth Olympics is like our first step,” Deschenes said. “I definitely want to get back to the Olympics and bring home a medal. My goal is to play at nationals and worlds for as long as I can.”
Radford said she definitely sees a bright future for Deschenes.
‘I see great opportunities for Emily moving forward, whether it’s in under 18 or under 21,” she said. “She’s definitely very talented and she loves it too. You can see the joy in Emily when she was playing. She truly loves the sport.”
Ottawa alpine skier Sarah Brown also competed at the Youth Olympics. She did not finish high enough in any of her events to register a recorded placing.
Team Homan, which features Ottawa-natives skip Rachel Homan, third Emma Miskew, and lead Lisa Weagle, as well as second Joanne Courtney, from Edmonton, came in 2nd place at the 2020 Scotties Tournament of Hearts. The event serves as the Canadian championships for women’s curling. Team Homan had 6 wins and one loss in the bonspiel’s pool play to place 1st in their division. They beat the team representing Northern Ontario and a wild card entry skipped by former world and Olympic champion Jennifer Jones en route to the event’s gold medal draw. It took Manitoba’s team skipped by Kerri Einarson an extra end to defeat the Ottawa team 8-7.
Ontario’s team skipped by Ottawa’s Sierra Sutherland finished with an even 5-5 record at the 2020 Canadian junior curling championships. Sutherland’s team finished 6th overall at the championships held in Langley, B.C. in late January.