Meet the teams competing at U.S. Olympic Curling Trials
The U.S. Olympic Team Trials for men's and women's curling will kick off on Saturday, Nov. 11 with eight teams, five men's and three women's, playing for the chance to represent Team USA at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. The competition will take place in Omaha, Nebraska at the Baxter Arena.
On Saturday, Nov. 18., after five days of round-robin play and a best-of-three playoff series, the top men's and women's squads will be named to the U.S. Olympic team.
The field includes seven athletes who are already Olympians, two of which (John Shuster and Joe Polo) are Olympic bronze medalists. The oldest curler competing at this Olympic Trials is 49-year-old skip Todd Birr, and the youngest is 21-year-old Hunter Clawson, who plays second on Birr's rink.
Many of the curlers playing in Omaha will also compete at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for mixed doubles curling, which will take place in Blaine, Minn. from Dec. 13-17. Mixed doubles curling is debuting as an Olympic medal sport in PyeongChang; in this discipline, teams consist of two people, one man and one woman, instead of four people of the same gender.
Here's what else to know about the curlers hoping to punch their ticket to PyeongChang.
The women's field
Team Roth: Nina Roth (skip), Tabitha Peterson (vice skip), Aileen Geving (second), Becca Hamilton (lead)
Nina Roth's rink is the top-seeded team in the women's field, and is currently ranked number 12 on the World Curling Tour. Team Roth formed in 2016 after USA Curling's High Performance Program suggested the four women join together. They quickly found success last season, winning silver at the 2017 National Championships behind Jamie Sinclair's team. They then earned the U.S.' berth at the 2017 World Championships over Team Sinclair due to the points they accumulated in previous competitions. At the 2017 Worlds, Team Roth finished fifth and successfully secured an Olympic quota spot for Team USA at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games.
About the players: Roth is a registered nurse who previously played with three-time Olympian Erika Brown. Tabitha Peterson is a pharmacist who won bronze with partner Joe Polo at the 2016 World Mixed Doubles Championship. Aileen Geving, the oldest member of the team at 30, competed at the 2006, 2010 and 2014 Olympic Trials. The youngest member, 27-year-old Becca Hamilton, was named USA Curling's Female Athlete of the Year in 2017 and played with her brother, Matt Hamilton, at the 2017 World Mixed Doubles Championship.
Team Sinclair: Jamie Sinclair (skip), Alex Carlson (vice skip), Vicky Persinger (second), Monica Walker (lead)
Jamie Sinclair's rink is seeded second at the Olympic Trials and is ranked 15th on the World Curling Tour. Like Team Roth, the Sinclair rink was formed at the suggestion of USA Curling's High Performance Program and are in their second season together. They ended last season on a victorious note when they won gold at the 2017 U.S. National Championships. They are one of the rinks competing in this season of Curling Night in America, currently airing on NBCSN on Tuesday nights.
About the players: Born in Alaska but raised in Canada, Sinclair competed for Team Canada until she was recruited by USA Curling a few years ago. Alex Carlson won a bronze medal at the 2010 World Junior Championships when she was 21, and also won the U.S. national title with her previous rink in 2015. Vicky Persinger, also an Alaska native, has placed in the top three at the last three U.S. national championships, moving up from bronze in 2015 to silver in 2016 and finally gold in 2017 with her current team. Monica Walker has competed at the last eight U.S. national championships, winning three total medals, and finished fourth at the 2014 U.S. Olympic Trials.
Team Christensen: Cory Christensen (skip), Sarah Anderson (vice skip), Taylor Anderson (second), Jenna Martin (lead)
The team skipped by Cory Christensen is the youngest in the field and seeded third at the Olympic Trials. On the World Curling Tour, Team Christensen is ranked 31st. The squad of 22 and 23-year-olds have been the U.S.' top squad on the junior level, winning gold at the 2016 U.S. Junior National Championships and silver at the 2016 World Junior Championships. This will be the first Olympic Trials for all four players, although the Anderson twins both competed at the Youth Winter Olympics in 2012.
About the players: Christensen has represented the U.S. at the World Junior Championships five times, leading her team up the ranks from 10th in 2012 to second in 2016. She also served as the alternate on Nina Roth's rink at the 2017 World Championships. Sarah Anderson, a few minutes older than her twin Taylor, was named USA Curling's Female Athlete of the Year in 2015, when she won gold at both the U.S. Junior National Championships and the U.S. Mixed Doubles Championship. Taylor Anderson is a two-time national junior champion and helped the team to a seventh place finish at the 2017 U.S. National Championship. Jenna Martin, the oldest member of the team at 23, won six medals, including two gold, at the U.S. Junior National Championships during her junior career.
The men's field
Team Shuster: John Shuster (skip), Tyler George (vice skip), Matt Hamilton (second), John Landsteiner (lead), Joe Polo (alternate)
The top-seeded team is led by John Shuster, who skipped the U.S. men's team at the 2014 and 2010 Olympics and won an Olympic bronze as a member of Pete Fenson's rink at the 2006 Olympics. Ranked 18th on the World Curling Tour, Shuster and his teammates are the reigning national champions. They have played together at the last three world championships, placing fifth in 2015, third in 2016 and fourth in 2017. Shuster has played with two of his current teammates on past Olympic teams: John Landsteiner was on Shuster's rink in 2014, where they finished ninth, and Joe Polo won bronze alongside Shuster in 2006.
About the players: A father of two, Shuster said that he's lost 30 pounds and become much more invested in his physical fitness since the last Olympics. Tyler George, who manages a liquor store as his day job, grew up in the same town as Shuster and the two have played against and together since they were kids. Matt Hamilton plays on a mixed doubles team with his younger sister, Becca; both have the opportunity to play on both their respective four-person teams and together on a mixed doubles team at the PyeongChang Olympics. Landsteiner is a corrosion engineer who has played lead for Shuster's rink since the 2011-12 season. Polo is the alternate on Shuster's rink, and will only play if another curler is injured or playing poorly, but Shuster says he contributes to the team in a unique way: Polo is an "one of the best rock matchers in the world," Shuster said, which means he can analyze the tiny differences in each curling stone to determine how they'll move on the ice.
Team Brown: Craig Brown (skip), Jason Smith (vice skip), Kroy Nernberger (second), Sean Beighton (lead), Quinn Evenson (alternate)
The second-seed team has two Olympians on its roster: Craig Brown, the skip, was the alternate on the 2014 Olympic team and Jason Smith played on the 2010 Olympic team. The rink is currently ranked 28th on the World Curling Tour, and finished fourth at last season's national championships. This is the team's second season together.
About the players: At 42 years old, Brown is a veteran curler who has competed at every U.S. Olympic Trials since 2002. Off the ice, he owns a curling supplies store. Smith was a two-time junior national champion who finished 10th with the U.S. men at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Kroy Nernberger will be competing in his first Olympic Trials this month, then his second in December--he qualified to compete at the Olympic Trials for mixed doubles curling with Nina Roth, who is also the skip of a four-woman team. Sean Beighton gained world championships experience in 2013, when his team finished ninth, and works as a video producer when not curling.
Team McCormick: Heath McCormick (skip), Chris Plys (vice skip), Korey Dropkin (second), Tom Howell (lead), Rich Ruohonen (alternate)
The rink skipped by Heath McCormick is seeded third at the Olympic Trials and is currently ranked 19th, just one spot behind Team Shuster, on the World Curling Tour. Another relatively new team, the four players started playing together during the 2016-17 season and finished sixth at the 2017 U.S. National Championships. They can be seen curling on this season of Curling Night in America, which airs on NBCSN on Tuesday nights.
About the players: McCormick grew up curling in Canada, then moved back to his birth country to play with a U.S. team in 2010. With a previous rink, McCormick won the national title in 2012 and competed at the world championships. Chris Plys is the sole member of Team McCormick with Olympic experience; he was the alternate on John Shuster's rink at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. 22-year-old Korey Dropkin competed at the 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games, where he won a bronze in mixed doubles. Tom Howell is currently a student at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis. and he won gold at the 2016 U.S. Junior National Championships.
Team Clark: Brady Clark (skip), Greg Persinger (vice skip), Colin Hufman (second), Phil Tilker (lead)
Team Clark is seeded fourth and is ranked 25th on the World Curling Tour. Since joining together, the Washington-based team has won two national championships medals: gold in 2016 and bronze in 2017. Clark and Tilker also won gold together at the 2013 National Championships, and finished ninth at the 2013 World Championships.
About the players: After winning the national title and making his world championships debut, Clark was named the USA Curling Male Athlete of the Year in 2013. Persinger was an alternate on Clark's team at the 2013 Worlds, then joined the rink officially the next season. Off the curling rink, he has an icy day job: owner of a Cold Stone Creamery. Colin Hufman competed at the last three U.S. Olympic Trials, with his best finish, second, coming in 2010. Tilker works at Amazon.com as a software developer and is a three-time national champion in mixed team curling, which involves teams of two men and two women and is not an Olympic sport.
Team Birr: Todd Birr (skip), John Benton (vice skip), Hunter Clawson (second), Tom O’Connor (lead)
Team Birr is seeded fifth and was the last team to be added to the Olympic Trials field; they successfully petitioned the U.S. Curling Association Judiciary Hearing Panal for a spot in September. They won silver at the 2017 U.S. Nationals and are ranked 50th on the World Curling Tour.
About the players: Todd Birr made his last world championships appearance in 2007, but it was a successful one: he led his team to bronze, the first medal won by the U.S. men since 1993. Birr and John Benton both work at the Four Seasons Curling Club in Blaine, Minn. Birr is the head ice maker and Benton, who was a member of the 2010 Olympic curling team, is the director of curling operations. 21-year-old Hunter Clawson is the youngest member of the team by a decade or two, and the most recent to join. Tom O'Connor has played at the U.S nationals ten times from 2004 to 2017, and won bronze in 2011 as well as silver in 2017 with Team Birr.