Stephen Emt, Bat-Oyun Uranchimeg and David Samsa compete against Team Canada during the 2021 World Wheelchair Curling Championship on Oct. 29, 2021 in Beijing, China.

Curling may seem like a relaxed sport but make no mistake, every time a rock is delivered, there is a ton of pressure on the curler throwing it. That pressure might be even greater in wheelchair curling, where unlike its able-bodied counterpart, there’s no sweeping of rocks to make them travel farther or straighter. A rock has to be right on, right away. 

Curling made its debut on the Paralympic program as a single mixed-gender tournament at the 2006 Games in Torino, Italy, and has grown from an eight-team tournament to 12 teams by 2018. Canada won the first three gold medals before it was knocked off by China four years ago, though the Canadians still managed a bronze medal. Team USA is still looking for its first Paralympic medal in the sport; its best finish was fourth at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

Unlike most other Paralympic sports, wheelchair curling utilizes little specialized equipment. The ice surface and the curling stones are exactly the same as those used in Olympic curling. Players don’t even need specialized wheelchairs. The primary piece of equipment is a stick to reach down to the ice and cradle the handle of the stone to make a throw. Players will deliver the rock and release it with a counter or clockwise spin to indicate the direction of curl.

One key difference from Olympic curling is that Paralympic teams must consist of at least one man and one woman. Team USA consists of three men — skip Matthew Thums, vice skip Steve Emt and second David Samsa — and one woman, lead Oyuna Uranchimeg, plus alternate Pam Wilson. Games also last eight ends in the Paralympics, as opposed to ten at the Olympic Games. 

Updated on February 13, 2022. For more information, contact the sport press officer here.

After finishing a disappointing 12th at the PyeongChang Winter Games four years ago, the U.S. team also missed out on the 2020 world championships. That didn’t sit right with 2018 Paralympian Steve Emt and the rest of the team. They dedicated themselves to getting back on a competitive level internationally. That culminated in a win at the 2021 World Wheelchair-B Championship, qualifying the team for the World Wheelchair Curling Championship this past October. There the Americans placed fourth, their best finish since winning bronze in 2008, good enough to secure a berth back to the Paralympic Winter Games.

Just like the curling tournament at the Olympic Winter Games, the Paralympic tournament will take place at the converted National Aquatics Center in Beijing. Known colloquially as the “Water Cube” as it hosted swimming in the 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the building will be known as the “Ice Cube” during the 2022 Games.
Steve Emt (Hebron, Connecticut): The only returning Paralympian on the team, Emt has also been on the national team the longest. A former UConn basketball player in the early 1990s, Emt got into curling after meeting U.S. coach Tony Colacchio in 2014. The 51-year-old has gone on to compete in five world championships in addition to the one Paralympic appearance.

Matthew Thums (Weston, Wisconsin): Hailing from the curling mecca of Wisconsin, Thums started curling simply by attending an introductory “learn to curl” session at his local club. The 45-year-old worked his way up to U.S. Open champion by 2016. Teammate Steve Emt was skip when Thums, at third, played in his first world championships in 2019.

David Samsa (Green Bay, Wisconsin): Samsa began curling just casually back in 2010 and gradually got more involved in the sport. Also a hand-cyclist, the 56-year-old competed in his first world championships in 2019.

Oyuna Uranchimeg (Burnsville, Minnesota): A native of Mongolia, Uranchimeg has lived in Minnesota since 2000. She had never heard of curling prior to picking up the sport in 2016, but had plenty of opportunities in the Twin Cities, home base of USA Curling. The 48-year-old advanced to the national team from the USA Wheelchair Curling Development Team.

Read more about the U.S. wheelchair curling team in this article.

 March 5-12, 2022: Paralympic tournament takes place in Beijing