Third time lucky for Jess and Ben Smith?

Jess Smith and Ben Smith at the 2019 Winter Games NZ
Jess and Ben Smith. Photo © WGNZ / Iain McGregor

29 Nov 2020 – Maniototo siblings Jessica and Ben Smith earned the right to represent New Zealand at the 2021 World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship when they won the three-team National Trial this weekend.

It has been a long wait for the pair. This is the third time they have won that right, but for personal reasons they did not go in 2019, and this year's World tournament was a casualty of the pandemic.

The 2020 cancellation increased the importance of the 2021 World Championship as an Olympic qualifier, triggering a one-off change from the NZ Curling Association. They introducing this National Trial rather than the automatic selection of the New Zealand Championship winners as the national team.

The other competing teams were Bridget Becker and Sean Becker, who won their sixth NZ Championship this year, and Mhairi-Bronté Duncan and Brett Sargon, NZ Championship runners-up.

The Becker siblings set the early pace, winning both games in the first half of the double round-robin. In the other game on Friday the Smiths beat Duncan and Sargon, a measure in the final end securing the win.

Jess and Ben Smith took both of their games on Saturday to finish with a 3-1 win-loss record, and the Beckers won their match against Duncan and Sargon to equal it.

Team Smith started their final against Team Becker the stronger side, and led 5-2 at the fourth-end break. The Smiths continued their form, running out winners as their opponents shook hands with the score at 9-3.

"Ben and I are pretty stoked with the result," said Jess Smith. "For us the focus wasn't just about earning the spot for the Worlds, but also proving to ourselves and everyone else that we deserved the second chance we got from NZ Curling to take part in this trial after our result from the NZ Mixed Doubles Nationals."

"We are very grateful for the support we had from family and friends."

"Our mentality for the weekend was to just take one game at a time. We know from experience that anything can happen in a game of curling and it's never over until the last stone! The standard of curling this weekend was outstanding, and Ben and I learned a lot from playing Sean, Bridget, Mhairi and Brett."

"It was great to be able to play under the pressure of time clocks and have the ice in great condition to play on so thanks to Reece, Jody, Dobbie, Karen and Darren for officiating. These conditions help up prepare for a world championship, so we are grateful for the time they gave to this."

The 2021 World Championship is scheduled for the last week of April, but the venue is not yet confirmed. Seven of the nine nations to join the Chinese hosts at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics will also qualify at this tournament.

Referring to the uncertainty, Jess continued, "It has been hard not knowing what will happen next year. But we just have to continue on as though everything is normal so that we come out ready, whether that's next year or even the year after."

"Also – a big thanks to Connor Dobson for organising the live stream of the games!", she concluded.