U.S. curling's Pottinger switches sides for Sochi
It’s a tough scenario to picture.
The Denver Broncos are locking horns with the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, one victory shy of the Super Bowl, and the Broncos win.
Then, the next day, Peyton Manning calls Tom Brady and invites him to join Denver just for the Super Bowl, with the understanding being that Brady would be a full-fledged member of the Broncos at the most crucial time in the Denver players’ careers before returning to play for New England again after the big game.
Well, this is kind of what is happening with the United States’ women’s curling rink heading into the Sochi Olympics.
Because just weeks ago, Allison Pottinger was skipping a rink at the U.S. Olympic Trials that was narrowly edged out by the four-woman rink of Erika Brown, which earned the right to represent the United States in the Olympics as a direct result of denying Pottinger’s four-woman rink the chance to go to Sochi, itself.
Then, the next day, Brown and her teammates called Pottinger—who they just defeated—and invited her to be a member of their rink—as an alternate—at the Olympics.
“After the Trials, their team had a meeting,” says Pottinger, a 40-year-old curler with 30 years of experience who represented the U.S. at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
“That’s where the discussion was about who the team wanted to pick and choose (as an alternate). The team kind of weighed in. At that point in time, they officially called me. It happened fast, within 12 hours.”
Photo: USA Today Sports
However, since in competition, curling rinks only feature four participants on the ice, Pottinger didn’t just join a new team only for the Olympics; she did so with no guarantee that she’ll actually get on the ice in the Olympics since she is, after all, the team’s alternate.
“Yeah, you know, it’s always a bit of that ‘pain’ that we lost Trials and that kind of thing,” says Pottinger. “It’s still kind of present because it hasn’t been very long where I’m still talking to my teammates (from Trials) and now my new teammates, and I’m kind of keeping those worlds separate from each other.
“But (Erika Brown) she was very nice and welcoming. She just said: ‘we think you’d be a great fit and that you can bring a lot to the team and have a good personality, and we want you to feel included.’
“I’ve known Erika for a long time. We played juniors together—she was even in my wedding. I also curled with Debbie (McCormick) for eight years; we won four national titles in a row together and won a World Championship together.
“Ann (Swisshelm) was on my team when we won World Championships in 2003. Jess (Schultz) is the one I know the least. But we curl at the same club (in Minnesota), and see each other every Tuesday. But we’ve just never played on the same team together.”
Despite the fact that Pottinger is by no means a complete stranger to her new teammates, in the world of competitive sports, the scenario still seems kind of odd.
After all, just imagine Tom Brady losing an AFC Championship Game to the Denver Broncos and then weeks later suiting up alongside the team that just withheld him from a trip to the Super Bowl in THEIR big game.
“The hardest thing is just going to the Olympics and just being really open, because everybody wants to compete,” says Pottinger. “I just have to be available to the team and be like, ‘what do they need from me that week?’ And if that makes the difference, that’s fantastic.
“I just need to be open to things that are different to ours (Pottinger’s usual team), and maybe I’ll see something I think is a good thing that I should incorporate, whether it’s different strategies or pregame prep. It’s (the Olympics) definitely something I can learn from.
“I think just being there will make me a better curler.”
Perhaps it’s part of the magic of the Olympics that such an arrangement between Pottinger—who will return to her former rink after the Olympics—and Erika Brown’s rink can work so well without either party considering it even the slightest bit of a risk?
Because it’s still pretty difficult to picture Tom Brady in an orange Broncos jersey in the Super Bowl, teaming with Peyton Manning.
Actually, it’s impossible.
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