Joe Polo is back home in his old stomping grounds.
The two-time Olympic medalist has returned to his hometown with the Bemidji Curling Club hosting the Mixed Doubles National Championship this weekend.
“It’s fun coming back home,” Polo said. “It’s good to see all the guys I used to curl against in leagues. They’re all happy to see me. It’s fun to see that the place hasn’t changed a whole lot.”
Polo, 37, has filled out quite the resume over his career. He’s won six men’s national championships, a bronze at the 2016 World Mixed Doubles Championship and will look to add a second mixed doubles national title to his collection this weekend. Nothing, though, can compare to his Olympic medals.
Polo won bronze while competing on fellow Bemidji native Pete Fenson’s team at the 2006 Torino Games before becoming the first Bemidji High School graduate to win Olympic gold at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.
“That was a lot of fun,” Polo said. “Just seeing your flag go up and hearing your national anthem instead of somebody else’s was pretty special.”
It all started with a trip to Bemidji Curling Club when Polo was 10 years old.
“One of my buddies wanted me to try it out with them on a Sunday night junior league,” he said. “So I just came down, I enjoyed it and just kind of stuck with it.”
Polo became a regular at the curling club in the years that followed.
“I had a key to the club and I came down here all the time,” he said. “I helped out Bob Fenson with the ice crew on different bonspiel weekends. I was always down here. I was a rink rat. I’d throw a hundred rocks, at least, a day. It was what I did in the wintertime.”
After spending a couple of years at Bemidji State, Polo finished his engineering degree at the University of North Dakota and then moved to the Duluth area in 2008.
While at UND, Polo took a semester off to compete in the 2006 Olympics.
“Obviously winning the medal was pretty darn cool,” he said. “There’s a lot of fun little things that we did at the Olympics that were just really neat. Just meeting all the different athletes and really feeling like a big part of Team USA, and cheering on all your other friends that you made in all the different sports.”
Polo was reunited with ‘06 teammate John Shuster when he was named the alternate for Shuster’s rink at the 2018 games. As the alternate, Polo spent a lot of time matching rocks, which is essentially learning the intricacies of a rock so the team has an idea of how each one will behave as it’s thrown down the ice.
“I threw a lot of rocks at midnight, basically, just trying to make sure the guys are comfortable with the rocks that they’re throwing the next day,” Polo said.
“Joe was an integral part of our 2006 team winning and he was an amazing part of our 2018 team winning, too,” Shuster said. “He wasn’t on the ice for any games, but the rock matching and the stuff he did in the locker room was truly amazing. … We loved having him along as our alternate. We were a five-man team for a year and a half leading into that Olympics, and I think Joe contributed any way we ever asked him to.”
Minneapolis curler Tabitha Peterson -- fresh off skipping her team to a women’s national title two weeks ago -- is Polo’s teammate this weekend as the duo attempts to match their national-title winning run of four years ago.
“We’ve done it before,” Polo said. “(Peterson) is one of the best women’s curlers in the country and I’ve done pretty well for myself, too. We’ve just got to go out there, play well, get comfortable with the ice and hopefully we catch a few breaks.”
The round-robin concludes at 10 a.m. Saturday with the top three teams in each pool advancing to the playoffs. The quarterfinals are scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday with the semifinals beginning at 11 a.m. Sunday. The championship is set for 3:30 p.m. Sunday.