CURLING: Mixed Doubles Nationals back where it started
BEMIDJI -- The USA Curling Mixed Doubles National Championship comes full circle this week.
Twelve years after hosting the inaugural event, Bemidji is again set to welcome many of the best curlers in the country for the 2020 tournament, which begins Thursday, Feb. 27, and runs through Sunday, March 1, at the Bemidji Curling Club.
“The talent is unlimited,” event co-chair Terry Matson said. “It’s the who’s who of Olympic curlers, basically, coming to town. The top quality curlers in the U.S. are going to be here in this event.”
Eight Olympians and 10 past mixed doubles national champions dot the field of a dozen teams, including three Olympic gold medalists.
No American curling fan will forget the historic gold-medal run made by the U.S. men at the 2018 Olympics. Three of the five curlers (skip John Shuster, second Matt Hamilton and alternate Joe Polo) from that team will compete this week in Bemidji.
Shuster joined forces with Cory Christensen to take home the mixed doubles national title in 2019 as they’ll look to defend their crown. The duo advanced to the 2019 World Mixed Doubles Championship, where they won bronze.
Siblings Matt and Becca Hamilton represented the U.S. at the inaugural Olympic mixed doubles tournament two years ago after claiming the 2017 national title, a feat they’ll look to duplicate this week.
Polo, a Bemidji High School graduate and two-time Olympic medalist, won silver at the 2017 nationals and bronze at the 2016 worlds with Tabitha Peterson as the two go for gold in Bemidji.
Riley Fenson, who’s partnered with Christine McMakin, is the field’s other competitor with Bemidji roots. Riley is the son of 2003 men’s national champion Eric Fenson and the nephew of 2006 Olympic bronze medalist Pete Fenson.
“(It’s) not unusual for Bemidji Curling Club to have local representation in any of these deals,” Matson said.
Bemidji spouses Jamie and Nate Haskell made themselves right at home by capturing the first mixed doubles title on their home ice in December 2007.
“It’s just a much bigger deal. It’s unbelievable,” Matson said of how the event has grown. “When we did it 12 years ago, it was sort of a new deal and hardly anybody came.”
Matson said there hasn’t been any shortage of interest in this year’s event, which goes to show how far mixed doubles curling has come in the last decade.
Aside from the obvious, the biggest difference between mixed doubles curling and the standard four-person game is the placement of two rocks in play before each end, one for each team. Each side then gets five rocks for each end, rather than eight as in conventional curling. Games also only last eight ends instead of 10.
“Because of the way the rocks are set up to begin the event, it becomes almost exclusively -- not 100 percent -- but almost exclusively a draw game,” Matson said. “And a draw game means a lot of rocks in play, which makes it very, very interesting. And that’s the big difference in this game. When you get a lot of rocks in play on almost every end, all of a sudden, the leaders can give up three or four points in any end.”
Bemidji has a long history of hosting national championship curling events. Expect no less from Curling Capital U.S.A.
“They know if Bemidji agrees to host that we’re going to do a good job,” Matson said. “We certainly have a reputation of doing an outstanding job hosting national events, and this one won’t be any different I’m sure.”
The tournament kicks off Thursday with the first round-robin matches beginning at 2:30 p.m. The playoffs begin Saturday with the final set for 3:30 p.m. Sunday. The winning team will represent the U.S. at the 2020 World Mixed Doubles Championship this April in Kelowna, British Columbia.
Tickets can be purchased online at BemidjiCurling.org, as well as in person once the event begins.
Cory Christensen*+ (Duluth) / John Shuster*+ (Superior, Wis.)
Vicky Persinger (Fairbanks, Alaska) / Chris Plys+ (Duluth)
Sarah Anderson* (Minneapolis) / Korey Dropkin* (Duluth)
Becca Hamilton*+ / Matt Hamilton*+ (both of McFarland, Wis.)
Tabitha Peterson*+ (Minneapolis) / Joe Polo*+ (Duluth)
Alex Agre (Woodbury) / Derrick McLean (Bothell, Wash.)
Madison Bear (Pardeeville, Wis.) / Andrew Stopera (Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.)
Christine McMakin (White Bear Lake) / Riley Fenson (Bemidji)
Cristin Clark* (Lynnwood, Wash.) / Chris Bond (Seattle)
Kim Rhyme (Minneapolis) / Jason Smith*+ (St. Paul)
Katherine Gourianova (Potomac, Md.) / Eli Clawson (Clarksville, Md.)
Monica Walker (Brighton, Mass.) / Alex Leichter (Boston)
*denotes past mixed doubles national champion
+denotes Olympic participant