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

Erika Brown

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.