By Ethan Diamandas
Curler Lisa Weagle braced for lots of change when her rink informed her of its decision to part ways with her in March 2020.
It was a difficult moment — an unknown pandemic was gaining momentum and for the first time in a decade, Weagle was a free agent – but the uncertainty didn’t last long.
The call about the split from the Rachel Homan-skipped team Thursday, Weagle recalls, and by Sunday of that same week, another phone call came, this time from Jennifer Jones.
Jones, the most accomplished female Canadian curler ever, skips another of Canada’s most talented rinks. Jones’ call to Weagle included an offer to join her five-woman rotation.
“I had a conversation with Jennifer,” Weagle said. “And she had said, ‘I think there might be an opportunity here to do something different in curling.’
“I thought that that was a really good opportunity for me. I said that I wanted to be on a team that had the potential to win. I wanted to go to the Olympics.”
At the Tim Hortons Olympic Trials in Saskatoon on Nov. 28, well over a year into her tenure with Team Jones, Weagle did exactly what she set out to do. The Jones rink bested Team Fleury 6-5 in the finals, clinching Weagle her second Olympic opportunity.
The 36-year-old said she experienced “a blur of emotions,” but what made the berth to the 2022 Beijing Olympics even sweeter was that Weagle qualified alongside new teammate Dawn McEwen.
There are plenty of similarities between Weagle and McEwen: both women are from Ottawa, they both play lead, and they’ve even both represented Canada at past winter Olympics – Weagle in Pyeonchang in 2018 and McEwen, who won gold, at the 2014 Games in Sochi.
But their relationship began very differently than how it is now.
“We’ve been rivals for probably over 10 years,” McEwen told the Ottawa Sports Pages in a phone interview before the duo trained at the Granite Club in Toronto. “Whenever I would play – like I would get up to play against Lisa – I knew I wanted to play well.”
A stalwart on Team Jones since 2007, the now 41-year-old McEwen often crossed paths in competitions against the younger Weagle, who played with Team Homan from 2010 until the end of the 2020 season. Jones knocked Homan out of the 2018 Canada Cup semifinals; Homan got some revenge in the round robin of the same tournament the following year.
During moments like those, Weagle said she aspired to elevate her play to McEwen’s level.
“Dawn was always that benchmark and that standard for me,” Weagle said. “When I was playing lead and learning that position, I would always look at Dawn’s stats or look at what Dawn was doing.
“So now to get to play with her is really incredible. To be able to share information with each other, help each other train, sweep rocks for each other, hold a broom for each other, I think it makes both of us better, which is really neat.”
It’s not very often you see two of Canada’s best leads play with the same rink, yet the duo said their friendship and support for one another makes their team run smoothly.
“We kind of joke we’re making a Super League (amongst us),” Weagle laughed.
There’s purpose behind that depth at lead, too. When McEwen stepped away from curling during the abbreviated 2020-2021 season to manage her pregnancy, Weagle took over in her place – something McEwen really appreciated.
“It took a bit of pressure off of me … Lisa is such an amazing player, and she brings so much to the team on and off the ice,” McEwen said. “I was able just to kind of relax and watch the team play and perform.”
Now, the duo can lean on their past experiences at the Olympics to help prepare for Beijing in February.
Weagle said she’ll carry some tactics into her play from her time with Team Homan, but also from training around and observing some of Canada’s best curlers, both male and female.“I think to be the best in the world you just need to be able to draw from everyone,” she said, “but then also figure out what makes Team Jones unique and what our specific brand of curling is.”
Managing things off the ice in Beijing, however, will be a unique challenge.
The Chinese government is expected to operate the Games under a stringent bubble environment, allowing no overseas spectators and subjecting athletes to daily COVID-19 tests. McEwen said keeping things positive before and after competing will be important.
“We’re really good at finding ways to make situations positive for us, so I’m not worried about that at all,” she said. “But I think that’s gonna be key for us – just to enjoy the opportunity, be thankful for it, and play our hearts out.”
Weagle is naturally grateful for the opportunity to compete in her second Olympics, but to do it alongside someone born and raised in her hometown this time? Well, that’s pretty special, too.
“To get to go to the Olympics, with this team, and with Dawn – someone who I competed against my whole life at lead position and knew when she was growing up in Ottawa – is really a dream come true,” she said.
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