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Waiting Game: After cancellation of mixed doubles trials, curlers waiting on decision

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After COVID-19 challenges forced the cancellation of Canada’s mixed doubles trials, several top curlers are anxiously waiting to learn whether they will be chosen to represent the country in the discipline at the Beijing Games.

Curling Canada has said it will consult with the Canadian Olympic Committee and Own the Podium before an announcement will be made.

Specifics on a timeline haven’t been determined, making an extended wait for the contenders seem even longer.

“This is a position we’ve never really been in before where it’s completely out of your control,” said John Morris, who won Olympic mixed doubles gold in 2018. “I think that’s the biggest thing. As an athlete, you always want to control your own destiny. That’s been the tough part.”

The trials were originally scheduled for Dec. 28-Jan. 2 in Portage la Prairie, Man., but were cancelled on Boxing Day. The federation cited travel risks and positive cases among athletes for its decision.

Olympic mixed doubles play begins Feb. 2 at the Ice Cube in Beijing, two days before the opening ceremony. The Canadian nomination decision was still in the “consultation process,” a COC spokesman said Tuesday in a text message.

Morris teamed with Kaitlyn Lawes to win gold in the discipline’s Olympic debut in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

His usual partner, Rachel Homan, was not available for the trials that year as she had secured an Olympic spot in the women’s team competition. Curling Canada doesn’t allow curlers to play in both disciplines at the same Games.

Homan and Morris, currently ranked fifth in Canada, are both available for selection this time around. Now they just have to cross their fingers and hope they get the nod when the decision is finally made.

“It’s definitely hard on the heart,” Homan said Tuesday from Beaumont, Alta.

Jocelyn Peterman and Brett Gallant are ranked No. 1 in Canada but both are already Beijing-bound after victories in the four-player team trials last November in Saskatoon.

Peterman helped Team Jennifer Jones to victory and Gallant helped Team Brad Gushue win the men’s berth. Jones and Brent Laing are ranked second in mixed doubles.

Given the unique scenario, it’s possible — although seemingly unlikely — that Curling Canada could make an exception to its rule. Many countries allow players to compete in both disciplines at the Games, but it appears doubtful the Canadian federation would want to disrupt team plans at this late date.

Nancy Martin and Tyrel Griffith are ranked third ahead of Lisa Weagle and John Epping. Weagle is part of Jones’s five-player team but is eligible for mixed doubles since she’s listed as an alternate for Beijing.

Another potential contender is the duo of Kerri Einarson and Brad Jacobs. Einarson, who won the Canadian mixed doubles title last season with Gushue, planned to play the trials with Jacobs.

Rankings and recent results will likely impact the decision-making process. Experience in major events like world championships and Olympic Games could also be factors.

Morris said he was “champing at the bit” to get on the ice before the playdowns were cancelled.

“Rachel and I had a great training camp leading up to the trials,” he said in a recent interview. “We were so ready to go. That’s the hard part. You can’t go and prove yourself.”

Sweden, Great Britain, Switzerland, Norway and the United States are some of the headliners in the 10-team Olympic mixed doubles field.

“I would absolutely love to have the chance to take them on but I’m sure there’s some other curlers that are saying that too,” Morris said from Canmore, Alta. “I just love going to battle against the world’s best and I would absolutely love that opportunity.”

Homan, meanwhile, is also waiting for news on another curling front. The Ontario Curling Association recently suspended its Jan. 5-9 provincial championship in Thornhill due to new restrictions in the province.

On Friday, the association plans to declare a representative for the Jan. 28-Feb. 6 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Thunder Bay, Ont.

“It has just been a crazy couple of weeks really,” Homan said. “Just so many emotions that come with it.”

Homan, a three-time national champion who has led Ontario to three straight Scotties final appearances, would normally be a slam dunk for selection.

However, if she gets the Olympic mixed doubles call, it could open the door for Ontario contenders like Team Hollie Duncan (ranked sixth in Canada) or Team Jacqueline Harrison (tied for sixth at trials).

MORE CANCELLATIONS

The 2022 Canadian Under-18 Championships were postponed Tuesday due to ongoing uncertainty related to the pandemic, Curling Canada said.

The event was scheduled for Feb. 14-20 in Timmins, Ont. The federation said it will try to reschedule the competition for later this year in a different location.

The 2023 U18 nationals will be held in Timmins next year. Curling Canada also said the inaugural Under-23 Lethbridge Classic in March will be cancelled.

SUPER SUNDAY

Five different provincial and territorial championships were on tap this week to fill out the field at the upcoming Canadian women’s curling championship.

Finals were set for Sunday in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Yukon, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories.

Kerri Einarson’s team will wear Canada colours at the 2022 Scotties. The Manitoba-based rink will be joined by Christina Black (Nova Scotia), Brigitte MacPhail (Nunavut), Sarah Hill (Newfoundland and Labrador) and Mackenzie Zacharias (Manitoba) in the field.

Ontario, Northern Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island have either cancelled or suspended their playdowns and have yet to announce their representatives. A single wild-card team will also be added.

The men’s national championship, the Tim Hortons Brier, is set for March 4-13 in Lethbridge, Alta.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 4, 2022.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

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COVID-19

Djokovic leaves Australia after losing deportation appeal

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Novak Djokovic left Australia on Sunday evening after losing his final bid to avoid deportation and play in the Australian Open despite being unvaccinated for COVID-19. A court earlier unanimously dismissed the No. 1-ranked tennis player’s challenge to cancel his visa.

Djokovic, a 34-year-old from Serbia, said he was “extremely disappointed” by the ruling but respected it.

A masked Djokovic was photographed in an Melbourne airport lounge with two government officials in black uniforms. He left on an Emirates flight to Dubai, the same United Arab Emirates city he flew to Australia from.

He has won a record nine Australian Open titles, including three in a row, but this time won’t even get the chance to try.

“I respect the Court’s ruling and I will cooperate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from the country,” he said in a statement.

Djokovic said he was “uncomfortable” that the focus had been on him since his visa was first canceled on arrival at Mebourne’s airport on Jan. 6.

“I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love,” he said.

The national federation that runs the tournament, Tennis Australia, said it respects the decision of the Federal Court. “We look forward to a competitive and exciting Australian Open 2022 and wish all players the best of luck,” it said in a statement.

A deportation order also usually includes a three-year ban on returning to Australia.

In Serbia, President Aleksandar Vucic said the hearing was “a farce with a lot of lies.”

“They think that they humiliated Djokovic with this 10-day harassment, and they actually humiliated themselves. If you said that the one who was not vaccinated has no right to enter, Novak would not come or would be vaccinated,” Vucic told reporters.

He said he told Djokovic after talking to him “that we can’t wait to see him in Serbia, to return to his country, to come where he is always welcome.”

He did not say whether Djokovic said he would first go to Serbia after his deportation.

Chief Justice James Allsop said the ruling came down to whether the minister’s decision was “irrational or legally unreasonable.”

Hawke welcomed the decision. His office did not immediately provide detail of how or when Djokovic would leave.

“Australia’s strong border protection policies have kept us safe during the pandemic, resulting in one of the lowest death rates, strongest economic recoveries, and highest vaccination rates in the world,” Hawke said.

“Strong border protection policies are also fundamental to safe-guarding Australia’s social cohesion which continues to strengthen despite the pandemic,” he added.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed what he described as the “decision to keep our borders strong and keep Australians safe.”

But opposition spokesperson on the home affairs portfolio, Kristina Keneally, said Djokovic was being deported for what he said and did publicly overseas before the government gave him a visa in November.

“This mess isn’t a failure of our laws. It’s a failure of Morrison’s competence & leadership,” Keneally tweeted.

The pandemic response has become politically charged with Morrison’s conservative coalition seeking a fourth three-year term at elections due by May.

Infection rates have soared across much of Australian since December when Morrison’s government relaxed what had been some of the democratic world’s toughest restrictions on international travel.

“I will now be taking some time to rest and to recuperate, before making any further comments beyond this,” he said.

The court process that Djokovic had hoped would keep his aspirations alive for a 21st Grand Slam title was extraordinarily fast by Australian standards.

Within three hours of Hawke’s announcement on Friday afternoon that Djokovic’s visa was canceled, his lawyers went before a Federal Circuit and Family Court judge to initiate their challenge to the decision. The case was elevated to the Federal Court on Saturday and submissions were filed by both sides that same day.

The three judges heard the case over five hours on Sunday and announced their verdict two hours later.

There was evidence that Djokovic was to be deported based on Hawke’s assessment that he was considered a “talisman of a community of anti-vaccination sentiment.”

Hawke’s lawyer Stephen Lloyd took aim at Djokovic’s anti-vaccination stance and his “history of ignoring COVID safety measures.”

Lloyd raised the example of Djokovic giving a French newspaper journalist an interview last month while he was infected with COVID-19 and taking off his mask during a photo shoot. Djokovic has acknowledged the interview was an error of judgment.

The minister canceled the visa on the grounds that Djokovic’s presence in Australia may be a risk to the health and “good order” of the Australian public and “may be counterproductive to efforts at vaccination by others in Australia.”

Djokovic’s visa was initially canceled on Jan. 6 by a border official who decided he didn’t qualify for a medical exemption from Australia’s rules for unvaccinated visitors. He was exempted from the tournament’s vaccine rules because he had been infected with the virus within the previous six months.

Vasek Pospisil, a Canadian who won the 2014 Wimbledon men’s doubles title and has worked with Djokovic to form an association to represent players, tweeted: “There was a political agenda at play here with the (Australian) elections coming up which couldn’t be more obvious. This is not his fault. He did not force his way into the country and did not ‘make his own rules’; he was ready to stay home.”

Pospisil wrote that Djokovic wouldn’t have tried to go to Australia at all and “been home with his family” had he not received the medical exemption.

Djokovic has won nine Australian Open titles, including three in a row, and a total of 20 Grand Slam singles trophies, tied with rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most in the history of men’s tennis.

Djokovic’s dominance of late has been particularly impressive, winning four of the last seven major tournaments and finishing as the runner-up at two others.

The only time he did not get at least to the final in that span was at the 2020 U.S. Open, where he was disqualified in the fourth round for hitting a ball that inadvertently hit a line judge in the throat after a game.

Because Djokovic has withdrawn from the tournament after Monday’s schedule was released, he has been replaced in the field by what’s known as a “lucky loser” — a player who loses in the qualifying tournament but gets into the main draw because of another player’s exit before competition has started.

That player is Italian Salvatore Caruso, who is ranked 150th in the world.

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Associated Press writers John Pye in Melbourne, Australia, Howard Fendrich in Washington D.C., and Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, contributed to this report.

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More AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Rod Mcguirk, The Associated Press

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Bayern defender Davies has heart muscle issue after virus

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MUNICH (AP) — Bayern Munich left back Alphonso Davies has been sidelined with evidence of heart muscle inflammation after being infected with the coronavirus, coach Julian Nagelsmann said Friday.

The Canada international will be out of action for at least “the coming weeks” after the inflammation, known as myocarditis, was detected in a follow-up examination after his return to training this week, Nagelsmann said. The coach described the inflammation as “mild” and “not so dramatic,” citing the results of an ultrasound examination.

“Despite that, it needs to heal and that will definitely take a certain amount of time,” Nagelsmann said.

Myocarditis is a mild, temporary condition in the vast majority of cases, according to experts.

Bayern said last week that Davies had tested positive and he was back in training on Wednesday. Nagelsmann said Davies would now stop training until further notice to give his body time to recover.

Canada Soccer confirmed on Friday that Davies won’t be available for Canada’s next three World Cup qualifying games in late January and early February, including a game against the United States on Jan. 30. Canada leads qualifying in CONCACAF as it tries to reach its first World Cup since 1986.

Bayern leads the Bundesliga and plays Cologne on Saturday.

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

The Associated Press

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