Competitive Field Vies For Title At Mixed Doubles Curling Trials
by Todd Kortemeier
Becca Hamilton delivers a stone as Matt Hamilton sweeps the ice in the Curling Mixed Doubles Round Robin Session 2 during the Winter Olympic Games PyeongChang 2018 on Feb. 8, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea.
While mixed doubles curling has a very brief Olympic history, having made its debut at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, there will be plenty of Olympians vying for the title this week in Eveleth, Minnesota, at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Mixed Doubles Curling.
Most of John Shuster’s team that won Team USA’s historic gold medal in PyeongChang will be there, including Matt Hamilton, who with his sister Becca won the mixed doubles trials four years ago. Other Olympians including Cory Christensen, Aileen Geving, Chris Plys, Tabitha Peterson and Joe Polo will be there, hoping to get the chance to add a second event to their Beijing itinerary. For Becca Hamilton, it’s easy to look around and see the talent standing in the way of a repeat, but that only makes the siblings want it more.
“I think that the mixed doubles program’s growing in the United States, obviously the last Olympics being a debut round, a lot more teams are getting into it,” said Hamilton. “And I think that there’s going to be really great competition there, but I’m looking forward to it. I think Matt and I have done everything on our end to prepare for it both together and then with our respective teams. So we’re really looking forward to it.”
Matt Hamilton echoed that sentiment, also noting the unusual nature of their sport that sees athletes normally on the same four-person team together facing off against each other in two-person teams consisting of one man and one woman.
“Well, Chris Plys is in it now, so it’s infinitely harder,” Hamilton joked about his teammate, who joined Shuster, Hamilton and John Landsteiner following PyeongChang. “Fortunately, he wasn’t at it last time so that helped our chances. This go around there’s a lot of really great teams. Tab and Joe, John Shuster’s in it as well, another teammate and I mean, Korey Dropkin, the list goes on. So there’s definitely no shortage of good players, and like Becca said, we’re prepared. The fortunate part, and I think the slight edge we do have is, we’ve been there and we want it.”
Plys’ presence does represent a significant challenge for not only the Hamiltons but also the rest of the field, as he and partner Vicky Persinger come in as the reigning mixed doubles national champions.
“(Mixed doubles is) still something that’s a bit different for me,” Plys said. “It’s a bit weird. The dynamic is a bit different than our traditional men’s and women’s teams, but I’m excited. I’m excited to play against Matt, and like they said, we have a lot of great teams in the U.S. You know, I think Korey and Sarah might be like the top five team in the world right now as well. So I think it’s going to be challenging.”
Sarah Anderson & Korey Dropkin sweep during the the Curling Mixed Doubles Finals at the Winter Games NZ on Aug. 27, 2015 in Naseby, New Zealand.
Korey Dropkin and Sarah Anderson do indeed rank in the top five among the world’s mixed doubles teams, and come in with plenty of experience in the discipline. Dropkin was a Youth Olympian in mixed doubles in 2012, then with Anderson won the first of two national championships in 2015. They repeated in 2018, also competing at the world championships in both years.
Polo and Peterson are also an experienced duo, having won their first of two national championships in 2016, qualifying them for the world championships where they won the bronze medal. That’s one of just two medals Team USA has won at mixed doubles worlds since the inaugural event in 2008. They repeated as national champs in 2020.
The other world medal in Team USA history belongs to Shuster and partner Cory Christensen. The 2017 Olympic Trials runners-up won bronze in 2019 after winning their first national championship together. Shuster also brings significant cred as one of Team USA’s greatest-ever curlers. The four-time Olympian sees mixed doubles as another way for curling to continue to gain popularity in the U.S.
“We’re seeing curling on the rise and it’s growing faster than it’s ever grown in our country,” Shuster said. “And that is incredibly exciting and I’m very humbled to feel like I’m a part of that. And I do what I can to go around and help support those clubs and myself and my teammates all do that. And yeah, the mixed doubles did just add more television coverage at the Olympics and at our world championships now as well. So, yeah, the mixed doubles is something that helps in getting us out there.”
The rest of the field taking the ice at Curl Mesabi in Eveleth includes Madison Bear/Andrew Stopera, Jenna Burchesky/Ben Richardson, Aileen Geving/Luc Violette, Jamie Sinclair/Rich Ruohnen and Monica Walker/Alex Leichter.
Round robin play runs from Tuesday through Friday with playoffs on Saturday and Sunday. The team that wins the Olympic Trials will move on to compete in a qualification event in the Netherlands in December. The top two teams from that tournament will qualify directly for Beijing.