OMAHA, Neb. (AP) When one of his games at the U.S. Olympic curling trials was in a lull, Matt Hamilton couldn’t help but take a peek at the proceedings on the adjacent ice sheet. That’s where his sister Becca was playing.
The Hamiltons of McFarland, Wisconsin, are here together to chase their Olympic dreams.
”It’s kind of a surreal feeling,” Matt said. ”I’ve watched her come up and learn how to curl. I started two years before her and I kind of coached her a little bit all the way through. Now to see her playing at the top level in the U.S. and be a contender along with myself in the same event is just awesome.”
Matt, 28, is a member of the team skipped by three-time Olympian and 2006 bronze medalist John Shuster, one of five competing to become the U.S. men’s team in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Becca, 27, is the 2017 USA Curling Female Athlete of the Year and on the team skipped by Nina Roth, one of three in the women’s division vying for an Olympic berth.
”Really a special opportunity for my brother and I to be here,” Becca said. ”We’ve been working our butts off for the last four years for this opportunity. I’m glad he’s by my side.”
Matt and Becca could be more than just U.S. teammates. Next month, they will compete together as one of eight two-player teams in the mixed doubles trials in Blaine, Minnesota. Mixed doubles will be contested for the first time in Pyeongchang. The Hamiltons are the 2017 national champions.
”Matt and I are a force to be reckoned with,” Becca said. ”We work well together on the ice and off the ice.”
In men’s and women’s play, each team is made up of four players. Players alternate delivering 42-pound stones down a narrow, 150-foot sheet into a 12-foot target area known as the ”house.” The skip stands in the house when not delivering and calls out where he or she wants the player to place the stone.
Two teammates follow the stone as it’s moving and, as commanded by the skip, vigorously sweep the ice in front of the stone to cause it to slide farther or alter its direction. Teams are awarded points for their stones winding up closest to the center of the house. The game lasts 10 ends, akin to innings in baseball.
The Hamiltons are among a host of family members who have competed together at the highest levels of curling over the years. Twin sisters Sarah and Taylor Anderson are at the trials with the Cory Christensen-skipped team, and sisters Cassie and Jamie Johnson were on the 2006 Olympic team.
Matt and Becca both played soccer, among other sports, before they were introduced to curling. Their father, Scott, curled in a league for about a year, but Matt didn’t get into the sport until a friend invited him to try it in 2004. Two years later, Becca began playing.
Scott and Cathy Hamilton both are in Omaha to cheer on their kids.
”My mom and dad are super proud,” Becca said. ”They’re with us every step of the way in every tournament we’re in, and that’s all we can ask for.”
Brother and sister spend hours in the gym working on strength and conditioning.
”When you go out there and sweep 30 seconds as hard as you can, you have a minute and a half to be ready to go and do it again,” Matt said. ”Doing it on short bursts with 100 percent effort is the main thing.”
Matt’s day job is as a research and development technician for Spectrum Brands near Madison, Wisconsin. He said he adjusts his work schedule so he can train and travel across the nation, and world, for competitions. Becca is in the Dick’s Sporting Goods Contenders Program, which allows her to concentrate on her curling while squeezing in hours at a Dick’s store whenever she can.
”I’m my sister’s biggest fan and I know she’s mine,” Matt said. ”We love to compete against each other. We love to chirp in each other’s ears. She’s really witty. I might say something, but she’ll get me back for sure. It’s a fun relationship, and she’s a good little sister and I wouldn’t trade her for anybody.”
It was apparent Sunday, when both were playing at the same time, that big brother keeps an eye on her.
”Maybe on big shots I looked up at the Jumbotron and saw their situation and thought about what I would do,” Matt said. ”We both know we have to take care of our business. The majority of the focus is on our game, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t look at hers.”
This story has been corrected to note that the name of Becca Hamilton’s employment arrangement is the Dick’s Sporting Goods Contenders Program.