Erika Brown received a phone call in mid-December from one of her curling teammates, and what she was told had her overcome with emotion.
It’s what Brown had hoped for.
The Olympian found out her younger brother Craig Brown would be joining her in Sochi next month as a competitor for the men’s team at the Olympic Winter Games.
“I’ve been to the Olympics before and I’m always dreaming of getting back, and I know it’s been one of (Craig’s) lifelong dreams to go to the Olympics,” Erika said. “Just to get to do it together is just really great. I can’t wait to be there with him.”
Craig was chosen as the alternate, or fifth, for the U.S. men’s team, skipped by John Shuster, earning his first Olympic Games nod after curling for more than 25 years. Erika — who is the skip of the U.S. Olympic Women’s Curling Team and will be competing in her third Winter Games in Sochi — called Craig right away to congratulate him.
“He was obviously very excited and I know he’s been trying to get there with his own team, but he has worked with lots of teams over the last several years,” said Erika, who competed in the Winter Games in 1998 and also in 1988, when curling was a demonstration sport. “He’s just flexible and capable of playing many different roles.”
As the alternate for Team Shuster, Craig is not guaranteed a chance to compete in Sochi. His role as the fifth member of the team is to be ready just in case a teammate gets injured or isn’t playing too well and has to get substituted out of the lineup.
Erika, who just turned 41 and is 2 ½ years older than Craig, is thrilled she’ll get to share the Winter Games with her brother.
People who aren’t familiar with the Brown family might assume a sibling rivalry exists, but that could be farther from the case. Craig and Erika both consider themselves the biggest supporters of one another.
“Knowing the family, I just really don’t think it’s a rivalry,” Shuster said. “Curling has been their livelihood and passion for both Craig and Erika their entire life. I watched Craig at the (U.S. Olympic Team) Trials living and dying on his sister’s rocks. He has a lot of passion for his sister to succeed, and I know she has the same passion for her brother.”
“It’s always been a helping out relationship and supportive relationship, not the competitive aspect like a lot of people think,” said Craig, who has been one of the top U.S. skips over the past decade.
Erika and Craig’s father, Steve, is quite an accomplished curler himself, having won the U.S. championship three times. In Sochi, he will coach the U.S. Paralympic Wheelchair Curling Team for the third time.
Steve, 65, has been curling for 57 years, and he and his wife Diane introduced their kids the sport at an early age. Steve, who represented the United States at three world championships in the 1980s and early ‘90s, saw his kids grow up together on the ice.
“I would say their whole lives they have been each other’s biggest allies,” Steve said. “It’s really a close friendship, which is one of the things that’s made Diane and I most proud.”
Growing up in Madison, Wis., Erika and Craig played T-ball and soccer together and were quite competitive. Both were good athletes. Erika won the Wisconsin state girls’ golf championship twice and went on to play for the University of Wisconsin golf team.
“I was thinking about this because I’m one of the most competitive people I know, and I’m competitive about everything except I just don’t feel like I was ever that competitive against Craig — maybe just because he was my little brother,” Erika said.
Erika and Craig haven’t curled against one another much in the past, though they did team up to win the U.S. mixed national title in 2000. Mixed curling involves two men and two women on a team.
The two siblings maintain a close relationship despite living 500 miles apart and in separate countries. Erika resides in Oakville, Ontario, while Craig lives in Madison.
Erika and Craig don’t get to see each other too often other than at bonspiels during the curling season and when their families have a chance to get together on some holidays. However, Erika and Craig try to talk on the phone on a regular basis. Conversations are more frequent during curling season, and talk generally centers around strategy and technical aspects of the sport and how each team did in a particular event.
COMPETING IN SOCHI
Both Erika and Craig are hoping to watch one another’s teams compete in Sochi. The men’s and women’s curling schedules don’t overlap during the first week. Most days, each team will only compete once, so there is plenty of down time between games.
“I don’t expect to see Craig in the Village hanging out and doing the stuff with us between games,” said Shuster, a member of the 2006 and 2010 U.S. Olympic Teams. “I told him, ‘If you want to go there and cheer your sister on and whatever, be there.’”
“My first focus is to help out the guys in any way I possibly can,” Craig said. “I think that’s why they brought me on. I will watch as many of my sister’s games as I can, as long as it doesn’t interfere with my first job. … I’d suspect I’d be able to watch most of Erika’s games without any problems, but I might have to miss a couple.”
Erika figures she’ll be able to catch some of Craig’s team’s games as well.
“We can always put it down as training, too, if we go to watch,” Erika said. “There’s always things to learn when you’re watching curling. I’m sure we’ll be hanging around the arena for some of their draws.”
As of late January, Steve did not have plans to go to the Olympic Games since he has to get his athletes ready for the Paralympic Games, which are also held in Sochi two weeks after the Olympic Games end. It would be tough for Steve logistically and financially to be in Russia for nearly six weeks for both the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.
No worries, though. Steve should be able to watch plenty of the Olympic Games on television and root for his favorite athletes.
He knows it’s quite special and rare for both his kids to be Olympians.
“It’s awesome,” Steve said. “It’s almost your wildest expectations and dream come true. We’re really excited for both of them.”
Greg Bates is a freelance writer based in Green Bay, Wis., who has covered Green Bay Packers games for a number of media outlets for the past seven seasons. He has been a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc., since 2012.