Oliver, Bilawka capture world mixed curling title

Colin Kurz's Winnipeg-based rink won the 2019 World Mixed Curling Championship with a 6-5 win over Germany in Aberdeen, Scotland, United Kingdom on Oct. 19, 2019. Left to right: Coach Jim Waite, lead Sara Oliver, second Brendan Bilawka, third Meghan Walter, skip Kurz. (Photo credit: Stephen Fisher/World Curling Federation)

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Marquette’s Sara Oliver and East St. Paul’s Brendan Bilawka can now call themselves world champions.

The two curlers, who were lead and second, respectively, for Colin Kurz’s team out of Winnipeg, went undefeated at the 2019 World Mixed Curling Championship in Aberdeen, Scotland. Canada, which also included Winnipeg’s Meghan Walter at third and coach Jim Waite, scored two in the eighth end to defeat Germany’s Andy Kapp 6-5 in the gold medal game on Oct. 19.

It is the second straight title for Canada and second overall at the event which debuted in 2015. It is also the first time a Manitoba-based rink had captured a world mixed title in either four-person or doubles curling. Walter, 17, also became the youngest player to ever win the event.

For Oliver and Bilawka, they became the first curlers from the Interlake to win a world title since Stonewall’s Ally Stewart captured the senior women’s crown as lead for Lois Fowler in 2015.

“To represent Canada at a world event and to go undefeated and win gold is just unbelievable. I can’t even describe the feelings,” Oliver wrote in an email to The Stonewall Argus and Teulon Times. “We all know it’s very hard to represent Canada with all the elite athletes we have …So I’m grateful to have gotten the chance to experience this. Being able to represent our country in Scotland was absolutely amazing. We had all our family members come out with us and we had a huge amount of fans cheering us on every game.”

Kurz’s squad started the tournament on Oct. 12 with a 6-3 win over Kapp, a five-time world men’s medallist. Canada later won 5-2 against Belarus on Oct. 13 and 7-4 against Slovakia the next day to improve to 3-0. Despite being down 5-2 against Hong Kong after four ends, Kurz scored three in the fifth and went on to win 8-6 on Oct. 15. Canada later routed Nigeria 15-1 on Oct. 16 before defeating Estonia 7-2 and Kosovo 17-3 on Oct. 17.

Being the top seed, Canada won their first round playoff match 9-4 over Sweden before defeating Denmark 6-4 in the quarterfinals on Oct. 18. Tied at four after six ends, Kurz scored two against the Norwegians in the seventh and ran them out of rocks in the eighth for a 6-5 win on Oct. 19.

In the final against Germany, both teams exchanged single points after blanking the first two ends. Canada scored three in the fifth for a 4-1 lead, but the Germans tied the game in the sixth and took advantage of a missed draw by Kurz to take the lead 5-4 after seven.

“The last end, we said if we made eight shots, we would have a good chance to win,” Bilawka wrote in an email to The Argus and Times. “We were never panicking because our lead (disappeared). We just thought if we could play one good last end like we had most of the week, then we could score two.”

Both Oliver and Bilawka enjoyed playing non-traditional curling countries as well as the hospitality they received in Scotland.

“We learned a lot of where they all came from (and) how they got into curling. Learning about that and the sacrifices they make to be at a worlds too was very interesting,” Oliver wrote.

“I would have to say it was my favourite event I have played in just because of the good people that we met this week,” Bilawka added.

After losing the two previous bronze medal games, Norway scored two in the eighth for a 6-5 win over South Korea for third place.

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