OMAHA, Neb. -- When skip Nina Roth returned from the 2017 World Women’s Curling Championship in Beijing after a fifth-place finish, her grandmother had a present for her.
“She said, ‘Nina, you played so well, I thought you deserved a medal,’” Roth said.
That medal was a chain with a Superman pendant. Roth says her grandmother has been wearing a matching one since the day she bought them.
Roth’s team faced off against Team Jamie Sinclair in a best-of-three playoff series at the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team Trials this week. The first two games were decided by a single point and required extra ends to finish, and Team Sinclair owned a 3-2 overall series advantage at trials heading into Saturday's deciding third game. So Roth decided she needed a little extra luck on her side.
“I had mine in my pocket today,” she said, pulling her Superman necklace out of her jacket.
That did the trick, as Roth and her team of third Tabitha Peterson, second Aileen Geving and lead Becca Hamilton defeated Team Sinclair 7-6, taking the series 2-1 and qualifying for the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
All four women will be making their Olympic debut. They are some of the first athletes to join the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team, behind only biathletes Lowell Bailey and Susan Dunklee, who qualified in February.
“It’s what I’ve worked for since I was 10 years old,” Roth said. “I’m in disbelief. It’s awesome. I’m so proud of my team.”
Team Roth won the first playoff game 6-5 before faltering in the second, dropping it 7-6. That night they returned to the house they were staying in, cooked dinner, enjoyed a meal together and tried to keep things light.
Closeness is something of a hallmark for the team that will routinely snuggle up on a couch together and watch TV to keep their minds off of curling, and it may have been what won them a trip to the Olympics.
In the ninth end, Roth committed a hog line violation, not letting her shot go before the designated line on the ice. It meant her shot was invalid and didn’t count, giving Team Sinclair a free two points and a 6-5 lead.
“I was just heartbroken,” Roth said. “My heart dropped into my stomach and I just got hot, and it was already a bad end to begin with. But my teammates were fantastic. We got in a huddle, took a deep breath together, said ‘we got this, we have hammer. As long as we get two, we’re good.’”
In the 10th end, Team Sinclair suffered several missed shots near the end. Sinclair’s final throw was heavy, giving Team Roth the deuce it needed without Roth even having to throw her final stone.
“You know you have to keep your spirits up even when something like that happens,” said Peterson, whose accurate final shot set up the 10th end for Roth to capitalize on. “We knew that if we had the hammer, we’re still only down one with hammer. It’s a good spot to be in. So you just have to remember those things.”
In a roller coaster of a game that saw both teams earn multiple steals and suffer numerous errors, keeping emotions in check proved to be difficult.
In the first end, Sinclair’s final shot was well short and Roth stole a huge two points to go up early, but Sinclair rebounded to score a deuce of her own in the second to tie things up. Roth had the hammer in the third end and it was her turn to miss on her final shot, with Sinclair walking away with the steal and the 3-2 lead.
In the fourth end it was Sinclair’s second-to-last shot that missed, giving Roth an opening to score another two. Sinclair blanked the fifth to retain the hammer, but missed her final shot in the sixth and Roth stole another point to extend her lead to 5-3. Sinclair blanked the seventh and scored another point in the eighth to get to within one, and she took the lead in the ninth on Roth’s hog line error.
“It was a lucky break for us, but we didn’t want to get a false sense of security,” Sinclair said. “So we kept the pedal down in the 10th end.
“It’s a struggle. We were able to make a comeback in that game. We had a chance, it just wasn’t my best performance.”
The members of Team Roth and Team Sinclair – which includes Sinclair, Alex Carlson, Vicky Persinger and Monica Walker – all came from the USA Curling high performance program. They all know each other, and have played both with and against each other for years, and Roth said that watching their opponents lose wasn’t easy.
“It’s a little bittersweet,” Roth said. “Of course we’re happy that we won, but seeing their faces after that loss, I know they’re devastated. And having played with a few of them, I still have a spot in my heart for them. I know that they’re going to keep plugging away and come after us again at nationals.”
But for now, Team Sinclair accepted silver medals at Olympic trials, and Team Roth had gold hung around their necks. While it’s already an upgrade from Roth’s Superman medal, they now have the opportunity to upgrade even further with the Olympics on the horizon.
“We’re definitely on the upswing,” Roth said. “We keep doing better and better and better. We’ve proven that we can contend with some of these teams that we’ll see at the Olympics. We’ve played a lot of them, we’ve beaten a few of them. So we’re pretty confident that if we keep just playing and keep working as hard as we’ve been working, if not harder, we’ll be contenders at the Olympics.”