BLAINE, Minn. – Cory Christensen thought she had it.
Down two, with a chance to at least send the game to a tiebreaker end if not win it, her final rock ended up inches off, leaving her and John Shuster lying just one and giving brother-sister team Becca and Matt Hamilton the win and a place at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
The Hamiltons, from McFarland, Wisconsin, were already qualified as part of the U.S. men’s and women’s teams, but now they’ll be pulling double duty as the first American team in the Olympic debut of mixed doubles.
Christensen and Shuster will be there as well, but that didn’t make the last-shot loss sting any less.
“I actually thought I had it,” Christensen said. “And then it kind of took a turn and (we) couldn’t stop it.”
Shuster went hard on the broom, but couldn’t rescue the shot.
“All I know is she’s telling me to go hard,” Shuster said. “And I was giving it everything I had in my being to try to make the shot for her and for us, and obviously it overcurled by a quarter inch and that’s why our game is sometimes so tough to take.”
When the shooter rolled away and it became clear that Christensen-Shuster had scored just a single, Matt Hamilton turned toward the team’s substantial cheering section — most of whom, the Hamiltons said, will be following the team to South Korea — and celebrated.
But even in the thrill of victory, and the making of history as the first U.S. Olympic mixed doubles team, the Hamiltons admitted it was bittersweet to beat Christensen and Shuster, their good friends and teammates on the men’s and women’s teams.
“I honestly was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I feel so bad for John and Cory,’” Matt Hamilton said. “Because they had a shot for the win and weren’t able to execute. I had like two seconds of, ‘Oh jeez that sucks,’ and then I had about an eternity of, ‘Becca, we did it!’ I got over it fast enough, but it was kind of heartbreaking for a second because they’re such great friends and great competitors.”
It was another closely contested game like Saturday night’s semifinal between the two teams, in which multiple points were scored in just one end. This one started that way too, until Christensen and Shuster scored three with their power play in the fifth end. The Hamiltons rallied back with two on their own power play, then stole one in the seventh to take a 6-4 lead.
In the deciding eighth, Matt Hamilton slightly overswept the team’s last rock, leaving Christensen with her opportunity to tie or win.
“I couldn’t stop thinking that I felt like I ruined our opportunity to go to the Olympics for mixed doubles,” he said. “Becca threw a pretty good stone, it might have been a little wider than we had wanted it, and I thought it was a little bit light and I started sweeping it and just didn’t pay enough attention to what was going in the weight. So when they ended up lying two and I saw that they had that shot, I was not feeling great.”
Any year in which an athlete qualifies for the Olympics is a special accomplishment. But the Hamiltons have done it twice in a month in two different disciplines. And their mixed doubles accomplishments speak for themselves, having won not only the trials but also the 2017 national championship. That title came with a trip to the World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship, where they saw many of the same teams they’ll meet in PyeongChang.
“We had a great run at the world championships,” Becca Hamilton said. “We went undefeated in the round-robin … Finland knocked us out of gold-medal contention, then we had to go down and earn the United States a spot at the Olympics still. Couldn’t quit then, we had to win two more games.”
Matt Hamilton noted they were just “two bad shots” away from advancing at worlds, something that will give them confidence for PyeongChang, as will their impressive performance this weekend against a deep field. The Hamiltons actually dropped their first two matches of the trials, but then never lost again.
They defeated Christensen-Shuster three times, in the round-robin, the semis and then the final. Nobody knows as well as them what the siblings are capable of when they get on the world stage.
“When Matt is at the top of his game, I’d put him up against anybody,” Shuster said of his teammate and opponent. “All the times we’ve played them, all season, for sure these last two games, both the two them have come to play, but especially Matt. I’m just hugely proud of my teammate."