Joe Polo and Tabitha Peterson compete at the World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship on April 23, 2016 in Karlstad, Sweden.
Mixed doubles curling might have fewer players, fewer ends and fewer stones than the brand of curling Olympic audiences have gotten used to, but there’s no shortage of the sport’s trademark strategy and execution in an event that makes its debut at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
It’ll all be on display this week in Blaine, Minnesota, as eight teams and 16 athletes compete at the first-ever U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Mixed Doubles Curling.
Unlike team curling in which teams are separated by gender, each mixed doubles team consists of one man and one woman, hence the name. The eight teams will compete in a round robin, with the top four advancing to a playoff to determine the champion. The team representing the U.S. in PyeongChang will be crowned on Sunday night.
Here’s what you need to know as mixed doubles takes its place in the curling spotlight:
Mixed Doubles Basics
Mixed doubles curling is played on a regular curling sheet with regular curling equipment.
Almost everything else is different.
Teams play five rocks per end (as opposed to eight), but each end starts with a single rock pre-placed for each team. The team with the hammer — or last stone of the end — places its rock at the back of the four-foot circle, and the team without the hammer places its stone as a center guard. No take-outs are allowed before the fourth rock.
One player throws rocks one and five, and the other throws rocks two, three and four. They can swap positions between ends if they so choose. Both players are allowed to sweep. Games last eight ends (as opposed to 10) with a potential tiebreaker ninth.
Most of the athletes competing in Blaine this weekend also took part in last month’s U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Curling in Omaha, Nebraska. Some of them are already headed to PyeongChang with their teams.
Three doubles teams feature two 2018 Olympic qualifiers: Becca Hamilton and Matt Hamilton, Tabitha Peterson and Joe Polo, and Cory Christensen and John Shuster. Nina Roth, skip of the 2018 U.S. Olympic women’s team, will also be competing with partner Kroy Nernberger. Nernberger’s team finished in fourth place at the trials.
Jamie Sinclair and Korey Dropkin, and Monica Walker and Jason Smith also all competed at the men’s/women’s Olympic trials. Vicky Persinger and Alex Carlson were also there, but not partners Jared Zezel (a 2014 Olympian) and Derrick McLean, respectively.
Best Of U.S. Mixed Doubles Will Be There
Though mixed doubles will be a new experience for the Olympic audience, the discipline is already on its 10th world championships, which took place this past April. Team USA has yet to break through to a gold medal, but Americans posted a best-ever finish with a bronze medal in 2016.
Team Peterson-Polo won that bronze after winning the 2016 national championship, but they failed to retain their national title this past year when they were defeated by the brother-and-sister duo of Team Hamilton-Hamilton. At worlds, the Hamiltons won their round-robin group but were upset in the first round of the playoffs by Finland.
Two other athletes competing this week are mixed doubles national champions. Smith won in 2016 with partner Jessica Schultz, and Dropkin won in 2015 with Sarah Anderson.
Youth On Display
At 35, Shuster and Polo are far from old, but they’ll be the elder statesmen of a field with an average age of just over 28. Christensen is the youngest woman at the trials at 23, and Dropkin, a 2012 Youth Olympian, is the youngest overall at 22. Both represent a bright future for USA Curling, as Christensen and Dropkin were named the 2016 Female and Male Athletes of the Year, respectively.
Christensen was the youngest skip at the men’s and women’s trials. Her team finished in third place, but she was later chosen as the fifth on the women’s Olympic team.
Many Athletes On Home Ice
Blaine’s Fogerty Arena is the home of Four Seasons Curling Club, a designated U.S. Olympic Training Site. Many of Team USA’s top curlers are based at least part time out of Four Seasons, including eight of the mixed doubles trials participants.
And 11 athletes are either from or currently reside in the state of Minnesota. Sinclair will be in her own backyard, as she resides in Blaine, which is a suburb of Minneapolis.
Catch The Action Live
If you can’t be there in Blaine, NBC Sports has you covered with 13 hours of live coverage from Fogerty Arena. Action from the trials will air on NBC Sports Network and the NBC Sports live streaming app, with NBCSN broadcasting the final on Dec. 17 at 4 p.m. ET.
Todd Kortemeier is a sportswriter, editor and children’s book author from Minneapolis. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.