2010 Olympic team nominees Shuster, Nicholson earn top athlete awards

Aug. 12, 2009, 6:25 p.m. (ET)

(STEVENS POINT, Wis.) - 2010 U.S. Olympic team nominees John Shuster (Duluth, Minn.) and Natalie Nicholson (Bemidji, Minn.) have been named the 2009 USA Curling Athletes of the Year. In the team category, the Brady Clark mixed rink from Seattle earned the top honors.

Both Shuster and Nicholson have been nominated to Team USA for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games after winning the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Curling in February. This is the first time for both athletes to be honored as individuals. Shuster earned Team of the Year honors in 2006 while Nicholson twice has been a member of teams named Team of the Year (2004 and 1997).

Shuster, 26 , led his team to a fifth-place finish at the 2009 Ford World Men's Championship in his first appearance as a skip.

"This award could have been given to anyone on the team," Shuster said. "They all had an incredible year. It's always nice to be recognized, but it is really a team award. It's a tremendous honor to be on the list with all those other great curlers."

Shuster was a member of the first team to win an Olympic medal when Pete Fenson's rink won the bronze in 2006 in Torino. Shuster is a four-time U.S. men's national champion, a gold medalist at the 2007 Winter World University Games and the U.S. junior champion in 2004.

Nicholson, 33, was the top ranked curler at the lead position at the 2009 Women's World Championship in South Korea where the Americans finished ninth. She is a seven-time U.S. women's national champion and two-time U.S. junior women's champion.

"It really was a surprise," Nicholson said of the award. "You never think about winning this award, but it is really nice to be honored for all the hard work you put in."

While Nicholson had a busy year preparing for competitions she also was switching jobs, finishing graduate school and caring for her newborn daughter, Stella, with the support of her husband John in her corner. "He's always so supportive and of all my goals whether it's been with school or curling. I'm very thankful for his support," she said.

Nicholson and teammates Debbie McCormick, Allison Pottinger, Nicole Joraanstad and alternate Tracy Sachtjen won their fourth straight national title in February, a U.S. curling record.

"It's a team sport so to get honored individually is a little different," she said. "I really feel like our team does have something special and that we push each other to make one another better.  I know I've become a better curler from playing with them."

Clark (Lynnwood, Wash.) and teammates Cristin Clark (Lynnwood, Wash.), Philip Tilker (Seattle) and Bev Walter (Seattle) won the 2009 U.S. mixed national title. The Clarks have won a total of six titles - five with Walter at the lead position. This was the first title for Tilker. Since the award was created in 1997, this is the first time a mixed team has been honored.

"I was pretty surprised to hear that we won. It's quite an honor to be awarded team of the year," Brady Clark said. "I'd never thought too much about it. Every year I look to see who the team of the year is. There are a lot of great teams on that list."

The Clarks also won the U.S. mixed doubles title this season and represented the U.S. at the World Mixed Doubles in Italy.

"Cristin and I have often said how neat it is to have a run like we've had. To be the first mixed team honored is definitely special," Clark said.

The U.S. Curling Association is sponsored by AIT Worldwide Logistics, Nike and bitRail.