Nina Roth’s team wins Olympic Curling Trials despite gaffe (video)

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Nina Roth harbored hopes of curling in the Olympics ever since the sport returned to the Winter Games in 1998, when she was a Girl Scout.

It took nearly 20 years, but she’s now on her way.

Roth, a 29-year-old nurse from Wisconsin, led a four-woman team to win the U.S. Olympic Trials finals against Jamie Sinclair‘s rink in Omaha on Saturday.

Roth, the skip, plus vice skip Tabitha Peterson, second Aileen Geving and lead Becca Hamilton make up the U.S. Olympic women’s curling team. They’re all Olympic rookies. A fifth curler, an alternate, is expected to be added later.

Roth and Sinclair traded overtime wins Thursday and Friday, forcing a winner-goes-to-PyeongChang decider Saturday to end the three-game series.

In the ninth of 10 ends, Roth committed a hog-line violation that cost her the lead, failing to let go of her last stone before it passed a line that entered it into play.

“My heart dropped,” Roth told media later. “I haven’t done that in a couple years.”

But Roth scored two in the last end to win 7-6, thanks to Sinclair missing on her last throw.

One day when Roth was 10, and her mom was her Girl Scout troop leader, the troop tried curling at the local club in McFarland, Wis.

“I loved it and signed up for junior league immediately,” said Roth, whose dad was a recreational curler.

Roth showed early promise, winning two junior national titles. After watching the 2006 Olympic Trials in her hometown as a high schooler, she competed in the 2010 Olympic Trials when she was 20 (very young for a curler).

She has a tattoo of a curling stone and an American flag on her right foot.

Roth’s team is new and relatively young compared to the most recent U.S. Olympic women’s teams. They’re all between 27 and 30 years old.

USA Curling’s high performance program matched them together in June 2016.

“When I got the call that the HP team was putting us together, I was literally outside and put on my tennis shoes and went for a run,” Roth said. “I was so excited.”

Since, Roth and Hamilton regularly drove four hours northwest from Southern Wisconsin to Blaine, Minn., to meet Geving and Peterson for practices. They passed the time on Interstate 94 by singing along to early 2000s punk rock.

“Our favorite song, this is embarrassing, Weird Al [Yankovic‘s] ‘Albuquerque,'” Roth told NBC Olympic research in September of the 11-minute, 22-second epic. “Becca knows all the words already.”

Roth’s team lost to Sinclair at last season’s nationals but earned the worlds berth over Sinclair via better season-long results.

Roth’s team would finish fifth out of 12 teams at worlds in Beijing. Not bad considering the last three U.S. Olympic women’s teams combined to go 5-22 at the Games.

Roth curled Saturday with a reminder of worlds. A silver necklace in her pocket with a Superman emblem dangling from it. It was a gift from her 79- or 80-year-old grandmother.

“When I came home from Beijing, we took fifth, and just missed qualifying [for the four-team playoffs],” Roth said. “She said, ‘Nina, you played so well, I thought you deserved a medal.'”

Peterson, a 28-year-old pharmacist, is going to PyeongChang after being on the runner-up team at the 2014 Olympic Trials.

Geving, 30, made her first Olympic team at her fourth Trials.

Hamilton, 27, will be hoping older brother Matt will join her in PyeongChang. Matt is on John Shuster‘s team that plays a winner-goes-to-PyeongChang game Saturday night in Omaha (NBCSN, 7:30 ET).

The Hamiltons can also qualify for the Olympics in mixed doubles, a new event at the Winter Games. So can Roth with Kroy Nernberger. Those trials are in December in Blaine.

The U.S. has earned one Olympic curling medal, a 2006 men’s bronze. The best U.S. women’s finish was fourth in 2002. Curling was part of the first Winter Olympics in 1924 and every Olympics since 1998.

Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway and Great Britain are the world powers in curling.

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New generation of male figure skaters owns spotlight at worlds; preview

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Nobody in the men’s field at figure skating worlds owns an Olympic or world title for the first time since 1985. This could lead to the best U.S. men’s results in years.

Yuzuru HanyuJavier Fernandez and Patrick Chan combined to win every gold medal since 2011, but all of them ended their seasons at the Olympics.

This week in Milan, the four leading men, who just competed in their first Olympics, are all 20 years or younger. And that includes two Americans.

Nathan Chen can become the first world singles champion from the U.S. since Evan Lysacek in 2009. Chen and Vincent Zhou could be the first U.S. men to finish in the top five together since Lysacek and Johnny Weir in 2005. Chen, Zhou and Max Aaron could make up the best U.S. trio at a worlds in more than 20 years.

Start with Chen. The 18-year-old said he planned to compete this week regardless of what happened at the Olympics, but after his struggles in the team event and individual short programs, the quad master nailed his free skate, came home to California and said he took maybe one day off of training before this event.

Chen is one of three men in the gold-medal hunt, along with Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno of Japan and world bronze medalist Jin Boyang of China. While Chen largely struggled at the 2017 Worlds and in PyeongChang, Uno and Jin each made the podium at both events. And each can come close to or equal Chen in quad numbers.

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Zhou, 17, has a chance to become the youngest man to earn a world medal since Hanyu in 2012. Or the first man to win the world junior title one season and make the world senior podium the next since Yevgeny Plushenko in 1997-98.

Zhou is riding momentum. He struggled in the fall and entered nationals in January ranked fifth among Americans for the season. He placed third to make the Olympic team and then landed three clean quads in his Olympic free skate to jump from 12th to sixth.

“I did better there than a lot of people thought I would,” Zhou told NBC Sports research last week. “I knew I was capable of that all season.

“I want to reach my ultimate goal of being Olympic champion, and my best chance is in 2022 … because by 2026 I will probably be old and creaky with four prosthetic limbs.”

Aaron made it to Milan after Olympian Adam Rippon gave up his spot, and the top two alternates (Jason Brown and Ross Miner) both declined. Still, Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion, is seeded seventh in the men’s field based on top scores this season.

NBC Sports figure skating researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

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Carolina Kostner the sentimental favorite at figure skating worlds

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Olympic champion Alina Zagitova is without question the favorite at this week’s world figure skating championships, especially after the sprightly Russian’s training partner and rival Yevgenia Medvedeva withdrew because of injury.

She won’t be the sentimental favorite, though.

That would be Carolina Kostner, the ageless Italian star who could be competing at worlds for the last time on home soil. The 2012 champion and six-time world medalist seemed to indicate that retirement could be looming after she finished fifth at the PyeongChang Games, where she was chosen to carry the Italian flag at the Closing Ceremony.

Kostner will have a huge home crowd behind her when the event begins Wednesday in Milan.

“Decisions like that should never be taken in a hot moment. It will come naturally,” said Kostner, who no longer can compete with the sport’s high-fliers when it comes to technical marks, but whose elegant artistry and presentation often make up the difference.

“She is an example of perseverance, of a long-lasting athlete,” Medvedeva said. “I have trouble imagining how someone can stay in that shape for a very long time. When you see people like Carolina, you understand that if she can do something, then that something is possible. If you love what you do, you put all of yourself into it, like Carolina Kostner.”

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When asked about retirement, Kostner brought up her cousin, Isolde Kostner, who won three Olympic Alpine skiing medals before deciding to step away from competition.

“She stopped skiing shortly before the (2006) Olympics in Italy,” Caroline Kostner said. “Many did not understand why she wouldn’t pull through because it was her home country, and she said, ‘You will feel strongly when it is time to stop.’ And I haven’t felt it yet.”

The biggest story at the world championships in an Olympic year tends to be who is missing rather than who shows up. The grind of competing for an entire season builds toward the quadrennial event, and athletes who medal or intend to retire rarely press on to worlds. Then there are the injuries, which accumulate during the year.

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