Curling will be working overtime at Pyeongchang Olympics
The bobsledders may push harder. The speedskaters may go faster. The ski jumpers certainly will soar higher.
Yet no one will work longer hours at the Pyeongchang Olympics than American curlers Matt and Becca Hamilton.
By qualifying for both the new mixed doubles discipline and the traditional, single-gender curling event, the siblings from McFarland, Wisconsin, could be on the ice for as many as 50 hours — by far the longest anyone will be in live competition at the Winter Games.
No one is saying that’s harder than, say, the 50-kilometer cross-country race. But even the skiers will be back in the lodge sipping cocoa after a couple of hours.
Depending on tiebreakers and whether they can get a bye in the semifinals, the Hamiltons could be competing for 18 straight days.
“No curler’s ever done that,” Becca Hamilton said. “Not many curlers are going to be able to get the opportunity.”
A 600-year-old niche sport that catches the world’s attention every four years — the sweeping, the shouting, the pants! — curling will be ever-present in Pyeongchang. Athletes will be throwing stones from the day before the torch is lit until just hours before the closing ceremony.
“The Olympics have done awesome things for curling,” Canadian second Joanne Courtney said. “And it’s just great to be a part of it.”
Here are some things to look for in the 2018 Olympic curling tournaments:
Mixed doubles will make its Olympic debut , followed on the ice at the Gangneung curling center by the more familiar, single-gender discipline. The United States was one of the few countries that allowed athletes who qualified in traditional curling to also try out in mixed.
That gives the Hamiltons an unprecedented chance to claim two curling medals at the same Winter Games. Or, if they falter in the mixed doubles, get a second chance to claim only the second Olympic curling medal in U.S. history. (The Americans claimed bronze in Turin in 2006 with a foursome that includes current skip John Shuster.)
“It’s a great chance to throw rocks we’re going to be playing,” Shuster said. “I’m sure it’s going to be mentally daunting for them. But if he gets it rolling through mixed doubles, he’s going to come into the men’s team and not miss a beat.”
Jenny Perret, who will compete in mixed doubles and also is an alternate on the Swiss women’s team, is the only other curler working double duty.
Canada has been curling’s most dominant country, and they’re among the favorites in all three events again.
The country is the three-time defending Olympic men’s champion, winning silver in the two other Winter Games since curling was returned to the program in 1998. The Canadian women have two golds, a silver and two bronzes at the Olympics. Canada is also the defending men’s and women’s world champion, while finishing second in mixed doubles.
But two of the four men that will represent Canada in Pyeongchang — and all four women — are Olympic rookies.
“No matter who goes from Canada in any year, no matter if it’s the worlds or the Olympics, you always have a target on our back,” said lead Ben Hebert, who with vice-skip Marc Kennedy won gold in Vancouver.
“The first time, we did what we were supposed to do,” he said. “Eight years, it’s been a long time and a long journey. You never know if you’re going to get back.”
The Canadian women’s team is the defending world champion, going undefeated at the worlds.
“That’s the first time a women’s team has ever done that,” Courtney said. “We love the pressure, we love having expectations. I think that’s a great thing.”
How big is the home-ice advantage in curling?
Shuster remembers going to his first Olympics in Italy, a country that like South Korea has very little curling tradition. After receiving a berth as the host nation, rather than the qualification process, skip Joel Retornaz led Italy to a 4-2 record in afternoon and evening matches ”when they packed the place full of screaming Italians ” and 0-3 when they played in the less-lively 9 a.m. session.
“The Koreans are certainly going to have that advantage,” said Hebert, who rode the crowd enthusiasm to the top of the podium in 2010. “To have the crowd behind your back — it was amazing to have hundreds of people you know there, plus all the Canadian fans cheering for you.
“It’s no different than having the home-field advantage in football or hockey. You feed off of it.”
While the South Korean teams would have been included as the host nation anyway, the women earned their spot by finishing eighth in the qualification standings. (The men were 15th for the 10-team field, and the mixed team was 10th in an eight-team field.)
“That should be pretty cool for the home country,” Shuster said.
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