In sports, you usually have to pay your dues before reaching the top.
Sure, winning can come easy for some. But great athletes and great teams usually point to a devastating loss (or losses) that, in hindsight, paved the way to a championship moment down the road.
In a lot of ways, the curling career of Rachel Homan has followed that blueprint. Lose a championship game. Train harder. Focus and prepare meticulously. Go back. Win the championship.
In 2007, when the Ottawa skip was trying to break through on the Ontario curling scene, she lost the provincial junior final. The next year, she lost it again. It wasn’t until her third trip, in 2009, that she finally won it… and then followed up with a loss in the Canadian junior championship final.
Homan reloaded again and got back to the national final the next year. This time, her team captured the title… and then lost to Sweden in the gold-medal final at the world junior championships.
You get the point.
Perhaps those losses, and the lessons learned from them, are why Homan has been able to cash in so often when it’s mattered most, on the big stage at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. She’s won the Canadian women’s championship three of the five times she’s played in it.
Homan, 28, and her relatively young team have quickly become one of the best rinks ever seen in Canada. But they haven’t done it all yet.
Last season, Homan became the first skip to capture a world title with an unblemished record. (Andy Wong/Associated Press)
Homan, third Emma Miskew, second Joanne Courtney and lead Lisa Weagle are coming off their best season yet. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a better one.
In front of a friendly crowd in St. Catharines, Ont., the Ontario team captured the Scotties title in heart-stopping fashion. It took extra ends, a total team effort and a brilliant double take-out from Homan, but they defeated Michelle Englot’s Manitoba rink in one of the most exciting finals in memory.
Game Wrap: Ontario’s Rachel Homan wins 2017 Scotties1:24
“There were team shots in big moments that I’ll never forget,” Homan says of that game. “Yes, I threw that last rock, but I wouldn’t have made it without my teammates’ confidence in me.”
Homan agrees that all those devastating losses and missed shots earlier in her career helped her come through in the clutch.
“We’ve faced those circumstances over the years,” she says. “Going through them helps you as a team to perform your best.”
With the Scotties win, the team earned the right to represent Canada for a third time at the world championship. In two previous trips, Homan (you guessed it) was unable to win it all. This time, she and her team weren’t going to be denied.
In fact, they went undefeated en route to winning the title, becoming the first team to ever do so.
“It was a dream season for us,” Homan says. “We were finally able to bring back gold for Canada.”
Homan, left, and teammate Emma Miskew are proud Ottawa residents, which would make clinching an Olympic berth there all the sweeter. (Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
This has all brought Homan to a moment that, in many ways, she’s been preparing for her entire life. Her fascination with curling was sparked when Ottawa hosted the 2000 Brier and she met Guy Hemmings, the colourful Quebec skip.
Fast-forward 17 years and the Canadian Olympic curling trials are set to begin on Saturday in Ottawa, at a venue that is about 15 minutes from where Homan grew up.
“Not everyone gets this opportunity, so we’re trying to enjoy this moment and take advantage of it,” Homan says.
If history tells curling fans anything about the trials, it’s that hometown advantage can be a decided edge. Kevin Martin won the trials in his home city of Edmonton in 2009. Jennifer Jones won the trials in Winnipeg in 2013. Homan wants to be next.
“It would mean everything. That’s our dream goal. To get on that Olympic stage is something I would be so proud to do,” she says.
And guess what? She has hard lessons to lean on again.
At the 2013 trials, Homan’s team found itself in the semifinal game but unraveled against Sherry Middaugh. Homan curled only 70 per cent while Miskew finished the game at 61 per cent. They lost 10-4.
By now, they know the drill. Train harder. Focus and prepare meticulously. That’s what this team has been doing since it lost that game. Every time they’ve followed that roadmap, they’ve come out on the other side as champions. Now they want to do it again — this time in front of their friends and families in Ottawa.
“The Olympics is missing from the profile. It’s what everyone aspires to. That’s what makes it so special,” Homan says. “If this is our year, then that would be amazing.
“But if we have more work to do, we’re ready to do that too.”