Matt Hamilton got into curling around 2004. That sparked an interest a year later in his younger sister, Becca, and she picked up the sport, too.
When school would wrap up for the day in McFarland, Wisconsin, the two used to head to nearby Madison Curling Club and face off against one another.
The one-on-one matches would be intense.
“They were like they are now, Becca ending in second,” joked Matt, who is 17 months older than Becca. “She’s a good player and she’s obviously gotten real good over the years. But I refuse to think that I’m going to lose to her in one-on-one.”
Who would really be victorious in those matches?
“Probably me,” said Becca, who is 26 years old. “Until one of us walked off the ice.”
Said Matt: “I can’t remember losing to her.”
Ah, sibling rivalries always last a lifetime.
That competitive nature between brother and sister has always been there, but now it presents a new twist. For the past year and a half, the Hamilton siblings have grown into a fabulous mixed doubles team. The duo won the U.S. mixed doubles championship last month in Blaine, Minnesota, to advance to the World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship, which takes place April 22-29 in Lethbridge, Alberta.“Knowing that we both can play at the level we’re playing at is pretty awesome,” said Matt, 28. “Going to represent the United States with my sister is pretty awesome.”
Both Hamiltons have world championship experience, but not in mixed doubles. Matt has competed three times, the most recent was earlier this month as a part of Team John Shuster that placed fourth at men’s worlds. Becca has gone twice, in 2015 and this past March, playing on Team Nina Roth that finished fourth at women’s worlds.
Mixed doubles differs from traditional curling in that each team has two players — a man and a woman — and each team throws six stones, instead of eight, among some other rule differences. The discipline will make its Olympic debut at the PyeongChang Winter Games next year.
The Hamilton duo — which doesn’t get a chance to compete in tournaments or practice much together since each are curling so much for their respective four-person teams — had to battle adversity at nationals last month. The team dropped three of its first four matches before staving off elimination. Matt and Becca won their final six matches, beating reigning national champions and world bronze medalists Joe Polo and Tabitha Peterson 7-6 in the final.
“We knew we could do it, it was just a matter of holding it together on the ice,” Becca said. “It’s hard with us because we’re family. The other teams there are friends playing together.”
When they are on the ice, Matt and Becca try to sweep their differences aside to do what’s best for the team. Sometimes that’s easier said than done.
They hold each other accountable for their actions.
“I know if I miss I’ll say something before he reacts and yells at me,” Becca said. “We also at this past nationals had a safe word. That just means you have to drop everything. You can’t be mad anymore, you have to keep playing.”
Matt knows there is a fine line when it comes to talking to his sister during a match. A fellow curler commented to Matt last year during a tournament that a typical mixed doubles team needs about a year and a half before the “honeymoon phase” is over and the teammates can get comfortable enough with each other to say things that are really on their minds.
“We never had to go through a honeymoon phase because I’ve been saying brutally honest things to my sister all my life,” Matt joked. “So we had no reservations about being honest with each other. I think that can help, and it does hurt sometimes. But it helps when you have someone that can tell you the truth — like if you miss a shot they’re not going to sugarcoat it and say, ‘Well, I thought you threw it good.’ Instead it’s, ‘Yeah, you dumped it.’”
Because the pair grew up with one another, they know each other very well. That familiarity is advantageous on the rink when they both can sense what each other is thinking during certain scenarios.
“I can definitely tell by his body language, just because we’re so close and I know when he doesn’t want something,” Becca said. “Usually, I’ll change my mind too just to avoid a fight. I can definitely tell, even when he’s nervous — just because we’re around each other so much and I’ve watched him compete at the last three worlds.”
But the two balance each other out by their curling styles.
“Becca and I are pretty different curlers,” Matt said. “I’m more of a wear your emotions on your sleeve kind of player, and Becca’s a little more reserved.”
Matt and Becca both feel like they’re throwing their best right now. The duo will get a chance to play in practice rounds in Canada before the world championships.
“I’m looking forward to getting back on the ice with him,” Becca said. “We have a lot of fun out on the ice despite our conflicts. We expect to do well. ... We’re looking to compete with just about everyone at worlds.”
The Hamiltons are setting out to accomplish great things in their first world competition as a team.
“The sky’s the limit,” Matt said. “After winning six games in a row the last time we played against really good teams, we know what we’re capable of and how good we are. It’s just going to be a matter of executing it and doing it at the right times. Mixed doubles is kind of a crazy game, so I’m not putting gold out of the question. I’m looking at the podium. Hopefully on the top of that podium.”