Erika Brown discusses the evolution of Olympic curling
Erika Brown is the skip of the 2014 U.S. women’s Olympic curling team that will be competing in Sochi.
For Brown, age 41, it’s her first Olympic appearance since the 1998 Nagano Games. Before that, she was the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic delegation at the 1988 Calgary Games, when as a 15 year old, she competed when curling was held as a demonstration sport.
NBCOlympics.com recently caught up with Brown to discuss the evolution of curling since her first trip to the Olympics 26 years ago.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Looking at the 2014 U.S. women's curling team
NBCOlympics.com: So, the Olympics are just around the corner. You’re going to be making your first Olympic appearance in 16 years; it’s been 26 since your first Olympics. Since it’s been so long since your last appearance, do you approach Sochi any different than your past Olympics?
Brown: I’m just at a completely different place in my life. I’m a full-time physician’s assistant (now). I’m also at the end of my career, as opposed to the beginning or the middle, so it’s a different perspective.
I’m also playing a different position–I’m skipping, so my role on the team is different.
NBCOlympics.com: How about the sport itself? Has the sport of curling changed at all since your last Olympics in 1998?
Brown: I think the game itself has changed a lot in the last 16 years.
I think the shot-making of everybody has gotten better and better. The strategy has evolved. The women’s game has changed dramatically in terms of what we’re capable of with our strength.
The game is much more comparable to the men’s game. There’s better competition across the globe. It’s a great challenge.
NBCOlympics.com: How much has it changed since 1988?
Brown: Back in ’88, the strategy was a lot more simple. There were a lot of takeouts and simple strategy. There were not nearly as many rocks in play during an end.
Now, there’s a lot more complexity in every end.
The rules have changed slightly, so it forces more aggressive play and more rocks to be in play. It makes for more complicated ends, and for more forward thinking, in terms of strategy. So, that’s definitely been a change.
NBCOlympics.com: Also, at the 1988 Olympics, you had a quote where you said you could beat Wayne Gretzky in curling. What was that about?
Brown: Oh, the Internet is a wonderful and horrible tool!
I think I said that I was sure Wayne Gretzky could beat me at hockey – I mean, no kidding – but that I could beat him in curling.
Nobody forgets anything anymore!
NBCOlympics.com: Back to curling. In 1988, how different was the treatment curling received as a demonstration sport, compared to how it is treated now as a medal sport?
Brown: Big-picture wise, demonstration sports were still a bit on the fringes, I’d say.
We had a separate Olympic village (in 1988) where we weren’t in with the full-medal sports. We were fortunate that it was in Canada because that’s a huge curling country, so it was a popular event. So, we didn’t feel like we were getting the shaft or anything.
As it became a medal sport, all of the countries just got more and more support for their curling teams.
This allows for more teams to travel more, and for there to be more top-level international competitions for us to compete in.
When you’re a beneficiary of United States Olympic Committee funding, it’s enabled us to continue to play at a high level, and to travel and play in more competitions.
Embedded video_content_type: Team Brown is now Team USA after winning Trials
NBCOlympics.com: So, in 1988, curling was a lot less popular than it is now. For the sport’s popularity to increase the way it has, was there some sort of singular watershed moment that had to occur? Or was the evolution gradual?
Brown: It’s probably been over the last two Olympics (that the popularity has increased).
The first couple times curling was a medal sport, one was in Norway in Lillehammer (1994) and the other was in Albertville (France) (in 1992). The coverage then still, in terms of the United States, still wasn’t very good. Although we had gotten that recognition as a medal sport from the IOC, I would still say that the popularity hadn’t reached that watershed moment.
I would say it was more in Salt Lake City – it’s been the last two or three Olympics where we’ve seen increasing media coverage where, on TV, they have been showing more and more curling.
Now, you don’t have to explain from point zero what curling is, and you can actually have a little more in-depth conversations with people about the sport and get into the strategy and technique more.
You don’t have to start with: “It’s a sport played on ice and we don’t wear skates.”
This is what we used to have to start with. And then the conversation ended, because people would look at you, basically bewildered.
NBCOlympics.com: So, if people have been bewildered when you spoke with them about curling, have you ever been asked some very “silly” questions about the sport? What’s the silliest?
Brown: We’ve heard all the questions, like: “Do you wear skates?” or “Do you bring your own rock to the rink?” – which no, we do not lug our own 40-pound stones to the rink!
NBCOlympics.com: Obviously, the next step for curling in this country would be for an American curling rink to win gold in the Olympics. In Vancouver, the U.S. women finished in last place. Worst to first would be an awfully big jump. This being said, what would be a successful Olympics for your group in Sochi?
Brown: Our ultimate goal is to be a gold medalist
But, I think what would qualify as a success is to be on the podium in Sochi. I think it’ll be a disappointment if we are not.