The winner of the U.S. Olympic Trials in men’s curling next week is not guaranteed to go to Sochi.
Five rinks (or teams) will compete in Fargo, N.D., beginning Sunday. The winner after a best-of-three championship series next weekend will head to Füssen, Germany, for what’s called the Olympic Qualification Event from Dec. 10-15.
Ten nations make up the Olympic curling field. The host nation, Russia, is automatically in. The top seven nations combining results from the last two World Championships also qualified.
The U.S. was eighth in those standings and therefore placed in the Olympic Qualification Event with seven other nations. The top two from the Olympic Qualification Event will earn the final spots at the Sochi Olympics.
The U.S. is favored to take one of those two spots given it’s the highest-ranked nation in the Olympic Qualification Event field (eighth) and has qualified into every Olympic curling tournament since the sport returned to the Games in 1998.
Curling can be unpredictable, but if one rink must be picked as the Olympic Trials favorite it ought to be the reigning U.S. champion. That would be a rink skipped by Brady Clark, a business analyst from Washington state.
The competition includes a rink skipped by Pete Fenson, who skipped the U.S. to its only Olympic curling medal, bronze in 2006.
Perhaps the best story of the Olympic Trials will be one of Fenson’s Torino teammates, John Shuster. The Minnesota bartender was the skip of the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team that finished in last place in Vancouver.
He was the surprise winner of the 2010 U.S. Olympic Trials, held one year before the Olympics in (where else?) Broomfield, Colo. “Shoostie,” who taped over a Titleist logo on his hat at the streamed Trials, went on “The Tonight Show” and became the American face of the cult-followed sport going into the Games.
But Shuster struggled in Vancouver and was benched after an 0-4 start. The uncommon group of once-every-four-years curling followers vented. His Wikipedia page was hacked.
Shuster didn’t tweet the rest of the Games but took the criticism in stride and regained his spot in the lineup.
“We had a lot of laughs about it,” he told USA Today.
NBCSN will televise the best-of-three championship series beginning Friday.