THE USA WOMEN’S CURLING TEAM HEADS TO THE THE 2018 WINTER OLYMPIC GAMES IN PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA WITH HOPES OF IMPROVING UPON HISTORY.
Themed “New Horizons,” the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang South Korea will kick-off with Opening Ceremonies on February 9, 2018. The stunning and beautiful mountain resort town with a population of 43,000 is nestled in the Taebaek Mountain area approximately 120 miles south of the capital city Seoul, boasting crisp air and an unmistakable pine scent – an appropriate ambiance for athletes and spectators alike.
Spectators and athletes can expect a unique Olympic experience packed with culture, South Korean hospitality and with the proximity of the mountain and coastal clusters, spectators can enjoy a snow and ice event on the same day. The 2018 Games will introduce four new events (mass start in speed skating, curling mixed doubles, snowboarding big air and a nations team event for alpine skiing), increasing the total medal count to 102 – a first for the Winter Olympics. The competitive action is daily, and with three events spread out over numerous days (hockey, curling and speed skating), any day is a good day to watch history unfold at the Winter Games.
One sporting event relatively new to the Winter Olympic Games, curling – nicknamed “The Roaring Game” and often referred to as “chess on ice” – is gaining popularity across the United States, bringing a unique combination of shuffleboard, bowling and phenomenal strategy skills to the ice. During the 16th century, curling started as an enjoyable pastime played on frozen lochs and ponds during harsh Northern European winters. It has evolved into a popular modern sport played indoors on temperature-controlled ice, attracting fans and large television audiences.
What does it take to be a winning curling team? Mental and physical endurance, a cohesive team with excellent communication, and a great deal of strategy. The objective in curling is to get the rocks closest to the center (button) of the target (house), accumulating points for each rock closest to the button than any of the other team’s rocks. Only rocks inside the house count. Two teams of four players play ten ends (like innings in baseball), each delivering two rocks down the ice for a total of eight rocks per team. If a team throws a perfect match, receiving the maximum eight points per end, it is referred to as a “snowman” – a very rare event, much like a perfect game in baseball. If neither team manages to keep a rock in the house during an end, it is known as “blank end,” and no points are scored. Teams throwing the last rock have the advantage known as the “hammer” – the chance to take out the opposing team’s best rock closest to the button. The team that fails to score points in an end gets the hammer for the next end. Guards, draws and takeouts refer to the three types of shots in curling; guards block the house, draws are orchestrated to go around the guards and rest in the house while take-outs are shots knocking the other team’s rocks out of play.
Fans are drawn to curling for the mind-bending angles plotted with each throw. It is incredibly easy to imagine yourself as a curler while simultaneously marveling at a perfectly executed takeout. Unlike other Olympic events, curling has little need for officials or umpires and is not decided by judges – flawless execution wins the bonspiel.
Once the first stone is thrown, strategizing is underway. The captain (skip) stands inside the house and directs their teammates at the other end of the curling sheet where to aim their rocks – they decide what shots to call and when to call them, known as “calling the game.”
The lead is the first to throw the first two rocks of the end, then sweeps for the rest of their team. For leads to be exceptional in their position, they must be good at throwing guards and a very strong sweeper.
Next up is second, who throws the third and fourth rocks of the end, aiming to takeout rocks of the opposing team. Second sweeps the first two rocks thrown by the lead, then the final four rocks of the end. It is extremely important for the lead and second to be in sync when sweeping.
Third (or mate or vice) throws the fifth and sixth rocks of the end and must be excellent at all shots, especially draws. They also are tasked for setting the stage for the last two throws by the skip and discussing strategy of the final two rocks of each end.
Jet Linx caught up with USA Curling – Team Sinclair’s Vicky Persinger and Team Roth’s Tabitha Peterson – ahead of the PyeongChang Winter Games. Persinger and Roth both boast impressive resumes with multiple championship titles attained since 2006 – most notably Team Sinclair claiming the gold medal at the 2017 U.S. National Championship – a remarkable feat for a team in their first year competing together. Team Roth brought home a respectable silver medal finish in that event.
Persinger and Peterson’s teams may compete against each other on a regular basis, but they share a common sentiment – camaraderie. “My favorite part of the sport is the spirit of the game and camaraderie among the players. The game has a lot of etiquette and respect in it and I feel I’ve taken those qualities and have shaped myself as an individual outside of the sport with the same principles.” Peterson agrees, “I love the camaraderie of curling. On the ice you battle with the other team and off the ice you socialize with them. It really is unique.”
I LOVE THE CAMARADERIE OF CURLING. ON THE ICE YOU BATTLE WITH THE OTHER TEAM AND OFF THE ICE YOU SOCIALIZE WITH THEM.Tabitha Peterson
The sport of curling took off decades before Alaska was proclaimed a state in 1959. The Klondike Gold Rush attracted Scots and the game of curling to Dawson City, Yukon Territory in 1898. By 1902, the gold rushers shifted interest to the Alaska Territory, specifically Barnette’s Cache (now Fairbanks). As a result, Fairbanks Curling Club was founded in 1905. The Club is proudly the oldest club devoted to any sport in Alaska. Persinger, a Fairbanks, Alaska native, comes from four generations of Fairbanks Curling Club curlers. “My parents curled and would bring me to the CurlingClub as a baby,” Persinger stated. “I grew up around the Club and started pushing rocks around when I was five years old.”
Peterson was introduced to curling at ten years old when her entire family visited the St. Paul Curling Club to give the strategic sport a try. “My Canadian born grandfather George Skelly played the game up on the iron range for many years but my mother did not get involvedat that time. It wasn’t until a friend asked her to play in a mixed league that she and the whole family got involved and never looked back!”
Persinger’s success in curling wasobtained while simultaneously attending college at the University of Alaska Anchorage where she earned an associate’s degree in Air Traffic Control. “I attended college while I was still playing Juniors (under 21). Juniors is a much different commitment level than women’s – or at least it was when I played!” Persinger exclaimedwith a smile. “I am a true Alaska girl and I wanted a unique career that was going to be more than sitting behind a desk for the next 30-years. I have always enjoyed flying with my dad and was interested in aviation. I thought it sounded exciting and something I could do almost anywhere if I was ever interested in moving. I recently applied for the current open bid for Controllers – fingers crossed!”
Peterson is a Pharmacist at CVS Pharmacy when she is not training for the Olympics. “I graduated from the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy in 2015 and have been balancing school or work with my curling my entire curling career.”
Sacrifices are made for many Olympic hopefuls working towards their dream of becoming an Olympian. “Our team is located in the St. Paul, Minnesota area,” Persinger stated. “We practice often in Blaine and St. Paul almost every day when we’re not traveling for tournaments.” Persinger resides in St. Paul away from friends and familyduring the winter to accommodate the strenuous training and long practices. “When I’m in St. Paul training, I treat it as a job practicing, working out, etc. so I don’t have much time for a social life but I try hard to keep in touch with my family and friends at home.”
USA Curling implemented the High Performance Program (HPP) Combine in 2014 – an invitationonly evaluation assessing athletes technical, tactical, physical and mental skills both on and off the ice. Unlike other Olympic sports with a national governing body managing teams, curling teams were self-formed and self-governed, resulting in underpreparedU.S. teams with dismal performances at the World Championships and Olympics. Persinger has been part of the HPP since the program launched in 2014. “Athletes are chosen individually to be part of the HPP. There is a combine that includes physical fitness testing, shooting, sweeping tests and much more. The program is significant in the resources it provides,” Persinger explained. Peterson also attributes the HPP program to Team Roth’s success. “When we got selected to be part of the HPP team, we had the opportunity to play internationally and compete at the highest level. We have many resources available to us – coaching, sports psychology and strength/conditioning training.”
USA Curling drew praise from the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) after achieving seven of the eight milestones set by the organization last season. After a nine year drought, the U.S. men won a bronze medal at the World Championships and for the first time, and a Team USA also took home a bronze medal in mixed doubles – a remarkable turnaround for the team in a short period of time.
“We continue to hope that the growth of the sport in the United States continues,” Persinger stated. “Curling can be played recreationally and competitively…. and with more TV coverage each year, we are increasing our number of couch curlers. It’s an exciting time and we hope to get more of our country on board with what it’s [curling] all about.”
Team Sinclair was poised for the Olympic Trials during the best-of three series, forcing a tiebreaker game against Team Roth. The first two games required extra ends to finish and wins for each team were decided by only one point. The tiebreaker determined which team would travel to PyeongChang for the 2018 Winter Games. Team Roth was able to bring out a deuce and claim the women’s solo qualifying spot.
“It was a rollercoaster,” Peterson staunchly stated. “The intensity of the games was so fun and such an incredible experience to build on. The mental toughness my team showed was amazing. We learned a lot about ourselves that we can persevere in high pressure situations.”
WINTER OLYMPICS TRAVEL TIPS
The primary airport nearest the Games is Yangyang (RKNY) but has limited capacity. It is a single-runway airport which can only accept about 6 flights per hour. GA aircraft may only park at Yangyang up to two hours and will then need to reposition – GA aircraft are not allowed to park overnight.
Incheon is approx. 130 miles and Gimpo is approx. 110 miles, respectively, from PyeongChang. Trains, buses and domestic flights are available between theSeoul airports and PyeongChang. Direct bus shuttles from Seoul via the expressway, will take about three hours 30 minutes.
To enter the country of South Korea, you’ll need a valid passport with at least one page available for your entry stamp. The only requirement for U.S. citizens to visit is a valid passport at time of entry. No visa required for stays less than 90 days for tourism or business.There are no special vaccines or other restrictions listed at this time.
The level of tension and the security situation can change with little notice, so you need to keep yourself well informed by monitoring local and international media, and readingU.S. Department of State (travel.state. gov) travel advisories in advance. The South Korean government has developed a smartphone application for download with civil emergency advice.
Before traveling make sure you have suitable insurance and that your policy covers you for any activities you plan to do (e.g., before you hire a scooter, make sure your policy covers that activity.) The winter in South Korea is very cold, with dry north-westerly winds. Warm clothes, down jackets, gloves and hats are advised. Temperatures can reach as low as -4F/-20°C in February/March.