(L-R) Vicky Persinger and Chris Plys during the curling mixed doubles round robin match against the Czech Republic at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 6, 2022 in Beijing.
BEIJING — Back in October, Chris Plys took the first step on his return to the Olympic Winter Games when he and partner Vicky Persinger won the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Mixed Doubles Curling.
In the afterglow of that result, the veteran curler felt relief.
“I’ve been grinding at this freaking game for a long time,” he said that night in Eveleth, Minnesota, not far from his hometown of Duluth.
You don’t get back to the Olympics after 12 years without grinding. Few curlers ever even get a second appearance, let alone after that much time. And the 34-year-old has spent more than 20 years of his life in the sport.
“Had a lot of heartbreaking losses at trials,” Plys continued, “and just to finish one off feels about as good as I hoped it would.”
Even back when he made his Olympic debut in 2010, Plys didn’t get the satisfaction of winning the Olympic trials. Then 22 years old and skipping his own team, Plys was a multi-time junior national champ but finished eighth at the Olympic trials.
Instead, he got the call to join newly minted skip John Shuster’s team as an alternate in Vancouver. Shuster was coming off a bronze medal as the lead for Team Fenson in 2006, the first curling medal of any kind for the United States. Playing time for Plys appeared unlikely.
However, the team struggled to a 10th-place finish and Plys got to come in at skip for Shuster in a game, in the process becoming the youngest Olympic curler in U.S. history.
Along the way Plys became a minor celebrity that year in Vancouver. Tattooed with shaggy hair, he picked up a reputation as the “bad boy” of curling. Entertainment Weekly dubbed him a “Stud of the Day” during the Games. Stephen Colbert called him “the cute one” on the team.
If the future looked bright for Plys, though, reaching that potential was a test of patience.
The next Olympic quad brought tragedy off the ice. Plys’ father Patrick — fans may remember him as the face-painted superfan in Vancouver — died in 2012 after battling brain cancer for 17 years. One of Plys’ tattoos reads, “I Choose Joy,” a phrase of Patrick’s from near the end of his cancer fight. The motto also inspired Project Joy, a charitable program the family created to feed hungry children.