Oddly enough, the first thing Matt Hamilton felt was a twinge of sorrow. Hamilton and his sister, Becca, won the Olympic trials for mixed doubles curling when Cory Christensen’s shot missed its mark by a hair—and Matt instantly empathized with his friends on the losing team.
Sunday’s final pitted the Hamilton siblings against Christensen and John Shuster, their teammates on the men’s and women’s foursomes that will represent the U.S. at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. That injected some camaraderie into the match at Fogerty Arena, but it lent a bittersweet note to the Hamiltons’ historic 6-5 victory. Moments after he worried that his own mistake ruined his team’s chances to play in the Olympic debut of mixed doubles, Matt Hamilton ached almost as much when Christensen’s last shot overcurled by a fraction of an inch.
“I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I feel so bad for John and Cory,’’’ he said. “They had a shot for the win and weren’t able to execute. It was kind of heartbreaking for a second, because they’re such great friends and great competitors.’’
That delayed joy didn’t take long to bubble over. The Hamiltons, of McFarland, Wis., lost their first two games of the trials, then mowed down the rest of the field to finish with seven victories in a row. They clinched the Olympic berth 29 days after helping their men’s and women’s teams to gold medals at the U.S. Olympic trials for traditional curling, making them the first Americans in their sport to compete in two disciplines at the same Winter Games.
Matt Hamilton is a member of the Olympic men’s team skipped by Shuster. Becca is part of the women’s team led by Nina Roth, which includes Christensen as its alternate.
The defending U.S. mixed doubles champions played brilliantly in Blaine, handing Christensen and Shuster their only three losses of the trials. Shuster, a Chisholm native, and Christensen, of Duluth, topped the preliminary round with a 6-1 record before losing to the Hamiltons in Saturday’s playoff opener. They defeated Vicky Persinger and Jared Zezel 7-6 Sunday morning to set up a rematch with the Hamilton siblings in the championship.
Sunday’s loss was the first for Shuster in an elimination game at an Olympic trials. He has been a member of the winning team at the past four Olympic team trials, dating to 2006.
“To see your friends win makes it a little bit better, I guess,’’ Shuster said. “But it still hurts a little bit.’’
The friendship among the two teams showed throughout the finals. Christensen and Shuster, playing their third game in 18 hours, laughed and chatted with the Hamiltons before the game and between ends. When one of them made a sweet shot, the rest offered a fist bump or high-five.
Neither team scored more than one point in each of the first four ends, with the momentum swinging back and forth as the Hamiltons took a 3-1 lead. A Christensen takeout gave her and Shuster three points and a 4-3 lead in the fifth end, but the Hamiltons scored two in the sixth end and stole a point in the seventh to hold a 6-4 lead heading into the final end.
On the Hamiltons’ last stone of the game, Becca threw a shot that went a bit wide—and Matt overswept it, leaving Christensen and Shuster an opening to score three points and win. “I felt I ruined our opportunity,’’ Matt said. “When I saw (Christensen and Shuster) had that shot, I wasn’t feeling great.’’
Christensen’s final shot had the right speed and path, but it overcurled slightly at the end to leave them with only one point.
“I actually thought I had it,’’ Christensen said. “And then, it just kind of took a turn.’’
The victory sets up a rigorous Olympic schedule for the Hamiltons. Matt, 28, and Becca, 27, will begin mixed doubles competition Feb. 8, a day before the opening ceremonies. That runs through Feb. 13, a day before the start of team competition.
It’s a nice problem to have, even if it took a few seconds to fully appreciate it.
“It’s going to be a lot of curling, and a lot of time on the ice,’’ Matt Hamilton said. “But we’ve trained our whole lives for this. It’s a dream come true.’’