Mixed Doubles Curling Champions from Seattle
A city known for its coffee, rain, and music, Seattle might soon be known for its mixed doubles curling as well.
For the second consecutive year, a Seattle team took home the U.S. Mixed Doubles Championship. Playing at their home club, the team of Sharon Vukich and Mike Calcagno knocked off defending champion Cristin Clark and her partner Sean Beighton in a 10-4 victory last month.
As the national champions, the pair qualified to compete in the 2010 World Mixed Doubles Championships this April in Chelyabinsk, Russia.
The national championships were formatted with round-robin group play, and the top teams advanced to the knockout round. Vukich and Calcagno won their group, but were unable to win one of the top two seeds, meaning they did not get a bye to the semifinals and had to win an extra match.
Clark and Beighton also had to play an extra match on their way to the final, and Calcagno said he thought having to win an extra game actually benefited the both teams.
"When you play and beat a good team and it gives you confidence going forward," Calcagno said.
In the semifinals, the pair got behind early, but they were able to collect themselves and draw on their experience in past competitions to rally back and win.
"Experience plays into it," Vukich said. "If you have been down that road before you know what to expect, and you can pace yourself correctly."
Drawn against the defending champions, the pair was able to shoot out to an early lead and hold off a comeback to take the title.
"We kept our cool and curled great," Vukich said. "A nice thing about playing with Sharon is she is there to win, and we came to the competition to win."
The pair had planned to compete in the national mixed doubles championship a year before, but Calcagno took a break from the game when his wife died of leukemia last year.
Vukich also took a break from the sport when her husband, Jim, died in 2000 of lung cancer. Jim was himself a fantastic curler, winning two national team championships, but as the sole head of the household, Vukich needed to give the sport up to look after her children.
After a seven-year break from competitive curling, it was her son and daughter that encouraged her to get back into the sport, and the family began to play in a weekly league together.
"I curled with my kids, and we won the Monday night league," Vukich said. "And earlier this year, with Joan Fish, Cathie Tomlinson and Aija Edwards, we went to senior nationals in Wisconsin, and won that as well."
Calcagno said the two were aware of the loss of their spouses, but the two never really spoke explicitly about it.
"It wasn't something we ever talked about," Calcagno said. "But something like that does help your team chemistry."
With the mixed doubles championship being held at their home club, Vukich and Calcagno decided in September to resume their plans for a partnership and compete at nationals.
It is Vukich and Calcagno's first national competition together, but the two have long known each other through the Tuesday night "super league" at the Granite Curling Club, where they competed both together and against each other throughout the years.
"Sharon and I both skipper our own teams, so there wasn't a lot of chemistry issues," Calcagno said. "We got a along right from the start."
Vukich was born into the sport of curling. Her parents were founding members of the Granite Curling Club, and Vukich has been a competitive curler from high school on, winning two women's national championships in the 1980s.
Even the national championship tournament was a family affair for Vukich. Her daughter, Emily Good, 26, and son Jake, 16, are top rated curlers in their own right, and finished 4-2 in their pool. The result was good enough for third in the pool, but the pair finished just short of moving into the playoffs at nationals.
Unlike Vukich, Calcagno has did not start curling until ten years ago. Growing up in California, Calcagno was an avid golfer, but he picked up the curling after moving to Seattle to work for Microsoft.
"The winters are dark, and it's too cold and rainy to play golf," Calcagno said. "There was a guy in my group that curled and it looked interesting.
"I got good instructions right away," he added. "Getting exposed to higher levels of competition really sharpens your game."
In the upcoming months, the pair will continue their usual curling routine and play with their several respective teams. They will also play more competitive mixed doubles games against members of the club, many of whom competed at the national championship.
Mixed doubles curling is not recognized as an Olympic sport. The 2018 Winter Games will be the earliest Olympics chance the sport has a chance of being added to the events.
But despite this extended time period, Vukich is confident that the sport can make it to the Olympic Winter Games because of the amount of new participants mixed doubles can bring to curling.
Vukich cites the communal nature of the mixed doubles as reason that is can expand quickly.
"When you downsize (a team) to four or two people, the team management is easier," Vukich said. "The fact that there are only two people on a team allows 26 countries in the world to qualify and participate."
Vukich said she thinks that additional publicity, including getting mixed doubles curling on television, would allow people to learn more about mixed doubles and get more people interested in curling in general.
"I think it can go all the way to the Olympics," Vukich said. "I think it's a great part of the game that is new to a lot of people, but the world will embrace it and it will go all the way."
Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Justin O'Neil is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.