Korey Dropkin found solace in a 5-mile run, purging memories of his near-miss at the U.S. Olympic trials by pushing himself to exhaustion on the roads of Duluth. Jamie Sinclair cleared the disappointment from her mind by plunging into the holidays, decorating her St. Paul apartment and watching a marathon of Christmas movies with her mother, Suzanne.
Both had come up just short of earning Olympic berths in curling last month, when their teams lost deciding games in the best-of-three finals at the trials in Omaha. In the past, Dropkin and Sinclair would have had to wait four years for another opportunity. But with the addition of mixed doubles curling to the Olympic program, it took less than a month for their next chance to roll around.
“Korey and I had a meeting, and that’s what we talked about,” Sinclair said. “As disappointing as it was to lose in the men’s and women’s [team] trials, it’s not over yet. We can still realize our dreams of being Olympians.”
Sinclair, 25, and Dropkin, 22, are among eight duos chasing that distinction this week at the first-ever Olympic trials for mixed doubles curling. The winners of the five-day event at Blaine’s Fogerty Arena will represent the U.S. at the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, as the small-scale version of the sport makes its Olympic debut.
Mixed doubles is a fast-paced, aggressive counterpart to traditional curling, which has four players per team. Its rules often lead to high-scoring ends and sharp momentum shifts, enabling twosomes to rally from deficits that would seem insurmountable in the traditional game.
It’s also less intense and more lighthearted — at least, the way Sinclair and Dropkin play it. Sinclair was drawn to the game three years ago because it is “a ton of fun,” she said, a perspective they plan to maintain this week despite the monumental stakes.
“Korey and I take our men’s and women’s teams very seriously,” said Sinclair, who skipped a team that lost 7-6 to Team Nina Roth in the deciding game at the team trials. “We’ve always gone out with a little more relaxed attitude in mixed doubles. We play very loose and relaxed, and we make a lot of shots that way.
“The [team] trials were a heartbreaker. We came super close. But losing that final made me that much more eager to win this next one. It’s fueling the fire, and Korey and I know we have it in us to win these trials.”
The mixed doubles trials represent a second chance for Sinclair’s entire St. Paul-based team. Her three teammates — Alex Carlson, Monica Walker and Vicky Persinger — all are competing this week. The field also includes six athletes who already are Olympians by virtue of winning the team trials in Omaha: John Shuster, Matt Hamilton and Joe Polo on the men’s side, and Roth, Tabitha Peterson and Becca Hamilton on the women’s. Cory Christensen, Shuster’s mixed doubles partner, was named the Olympic alternate after the trials.
Dropkin ended the team trials the same way Sinclair did: as a runner-up. His team, skipped by Heath McCormick, fell 7-5 to Team Shuster in the deciding game.
Gutted by the loss, Dropkin knew he had to get past it quickly. After returning to Duluth, he went for that mind-clearing run, then got back into the gym and onto the ice. He and Sinclair still had to qualify for the mixed doubles trials — and less than a week after their wrenching defeats, they won the Twin Ports Classic in Duluth to earn another shot at the Olympics.
“I had to stop focusing on the past, because I knew I had an opportunity with Jamie in mixed doubles,” said Dropkin, a Massachusetts native who moved to Duluth five years ago. “We got together before the [Twin Ports] tournament, and we had both moved on. We had to make sure we qualified, but we still wanted to keep it light and have fun, because that’s when we play our best.”
Dropkin and Sinclair have played together for two seasons. Both superb shotmakers, their mutual trust and candor helps them make decisions swiftly, critical qualities in a fast-moving game.
Like Sinclair, Dropkin got his first taste of an Olympic trials last month. Having gone through that emotional crucible, both said they have a better understanding of how they perform under pressure and how to approach a tournament that offers the most coveted prize in their sport.
They also feel fortunate that they had to wait only four weeks — instead of four years — for their next opportunity.
“We’ve been in that final game with everything on the line, which is a huge asset,” Dropkin said. “We’re even more motivated and hungry now. We’re going into this tournament knowing we can win.”