Erika Brown

Erika Brown, John Shuster rinks lead U.S. Olympic Curling Trials

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Erika Brown is halfway to her third Olympics and first in 16 years. John Shuster is closer to returning to the Games, too.

Brown and Shuster’s rinks won the first games in the best-of-three U.S. Olympic Curling Trials championship series in Fargo, N.D., on Friday.

Brown’s rink, the reigning U.S. champion, beat a team skipped by 2010 Olympian Allison Pottinger 7-5. 

Shuster’s rink dealt a team skipped by 2006 U.S. Olympian Pete Fenson a 9-8 defeat, squandering an 8-3 lead through seven of 10 regulation ends. Fenson forced an extra end before Shuster put the game away in 11.

“You get here today, and there’s a few more people and it’s a little warmer and the lights are a little brighter,” Shuster said on NBCSN. “I think that kind of got to us as we almost squandered a huge lead.”

Brown and Shuster can close out Pottinger and Fenson with wins Saturday. The men play at 3:30 p.m., followed by the women at 8. If either is forced to a third and deciding game, they will be Sunday afternoon.

All games will be televised on NBCSN and streamed on NBC Live Extra.

Brown, 40, first competed at the Olympics in 1988 as the youngest member of the U.S. delegation in Calgary when curling was a demonstration sport. She returned in 1998, when the U.S. was eliminated in round-robin play.

Brown’s team is known as the all-star team of U.S. curling because all four members are Olympians, including Debbie McCormickJessica Schultz and Ann Swisshelm. McCormick skipped the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team that finished in last place in Vancouver.

Brown said her rink and their pets may plan a trip to a local dog park before Saturday night’s game.

“Try and relax,” Brown said. “I don’t know if that’s going to be possible.”

Pottinger’s rink won the 2012 U.S. Championship. Three members of Pottinger’s rink were on the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team with McCormick – Nicole Joraanstad and Natalie Nicholson and Pottinger. The fourth member is Tabitha Peterson.

The men’s winner in Fargo is not guaranteed an Olympic berth.

The next step for Shuster or Fenson’s rink is what’s called the Olympic Qualification Event from Dec. 10-15 in Füssen, Germany, because the U.S. did not qualify for Sochi via results at last two World Championships.

The top two from the Olympic Qualification Event will earn the final spots at the 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 overall) and has qualified into every Olympic curling tournament since the sport returned to the Games in 1998.

Fenson, 45, skipped the U.S. rink that won bronze at the 2006 Olympics. Shuster was on that rink and then led his own rink to the 2010 Olympics, where he was briefly benched after a poor start.

Federica Brignone passes Mikaela Shiffrin for World Cup overall lead

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Italian Federica Brignone passed an absent Mikaela Shiffrin for the World Cup overall standings lead by winning a combined in Switzerland on Sunday.

Brignone prevailed by .92 of a second adding times from super-G and slalom runs in Crans-Montana. Full results are here.

Brignone moved 73 points ahead of Shiffrin in the overall through 29 of 40 scheduled races. A race winner receives 100 points on a descending scale through the 30th-place finisher. The season runs through March 22.

Shiffrin, the three-time reigning World Cup overall champion, has not competed since the unexpected death of her father on Feb. 2. She has not announced if or when she will return this season.

Brignone, 29, is having a career season with five wins and 10 podiums across four disciplines.

Brignone’s best previous World Cup overall standings finish was fifth. She earned giant slalom medals at the 2018 Olympics (bronze) and 2011 World Championships (silver).

She could become Italy’s first female World Cup overall champion. The last Italian male winner was Alberto Tomba in 1995.

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves to La Thuile, Italy, for a super-G and a combined next Saturday and Sunday.

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Jade Carey on brink of becoming first gymnast to qualify for U.S. Olympic team

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The U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials aren’t until late June, but Jade Carey is in position to qualify for the Tokyo Games in March.

Carey, seeking an individual Olympic gymnastics spot outside of the team competition, earned the maximum points in a World Cup series that is one path to Olympic qualification.

Carey has three wins each on floor exercise and vault with two World Cups left in March. Carey will mathematically clinch an Olympic spot if no other gymnasts earn maximum points on one of the apparatuses to force a tiebreaker.

A gymnast’s top three finishes across the eight-stop series count in Olympic qualifying. If Carey finishes atop the floor or vault standings, she goes to the Olympics.

Carey picked up those third wins on floor and vault at the sixth World Cup in Melbourne, Australia, this weekend.

So far, no other gymnast has two wins on floor. One other gymnast can get to the maximum points on vault with one win between the last two stops (and others with two).

The one downside to qualifying this route: Carey would not be able to compete in the team competition at the Olympics. Those four spots will be determined at and after June’s trials in St. Louis, with Simone Biles likely grabbing one of them.

“I knew I would be giving up being on the team,” Carey said in October of going the World Cup route, “but I think, for me, it made sense to just go for it.”

Carey is a world medalist on vault and floor, but she doesn’t have the all-around credentials of Biles and some other U.S. gymnasts.

Olympic team event roster sizes were cut from five to four for Tokyo, putting a greater onus on all-around prowess given a team must put three gymnasts on each apparatus in the Olympic final.

The U.S. is the deepest country in women’s gymnastics, so the only truly safe pick to make the four-woman Olympic team event roster is Biles.

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