U.S. curler Craig Brown experienced an Oympic rarity


SOCHI, Russia – The U.S. men’s curling team made a roster change Sunday.

Jeff Isaacson, a junior high science teacher, gave up his spot on the four-man rink for its next to last game. The U.S., already eliminated from medal contention, made a group decision to give alternate Craig Brown, 38, his first Olympic action.

The new-look Americans dropped to 2-6 with a defeat to Sweden, but the result didn’t lessen the gesture.

“All of us thought, for the sacrifice [Brown] made for us, we could put him on the ice,” U.S. skip John Shuster said. “We’re not going to lose anything, either, because he’s a great player.”

Some Olympic sports teams were allowed to bring alternates to Sochi, but only in curling were those alternates official U.S. Olympic Team members. Even if they never got called up for a game.

VIDEO: Another tough day for Team USA

It started shortly after November’s U.S. Olympic Trials in Fargo, N.D. Teams of four men and four women vied in a tournament to earn the berths in Sochi. Rinks skipped by Shuster and Erika Brown, Craig’s older sister, prevailed. The spoils of winning trials included the opportunity to add a fifth member to the teams.

Shuster asked Craig Brown (pictured above), whom he played with for a short time after the Vancouver Olympics. Craig Brown had skipped a team that fell short at trials.

“I guess they thought that I was the guy who could help them out the most,” said Brown, who wears glasses and stands 5-foot-7. “So it was an honor to be asked. Obviously, initially, I always would have hoped that I was bringing my own team here, but I feel like I’m part of this team as well.”

Brown spent the Team USA’s first seven games in Sochi watching on the bench next to a pair of U.S. coaches. The entire team hoped he wouldn’t be able to play at all, because that would have meant the U.S. was performing well and advancing with unbreakable chemistry.

That didn’t happen. The U.S. was left to play for pride after a loss Sunday morning. That’s when Isaacson approached Craig Brown.

“I checked with [Isaacson] three or four times to make sure that he was sure about the decision,” Brown said. “Then I thanked him, and I went and curled and tried my best. I played pretty well. Could have made a couple more shots. But not bad.”

Does Brown consider himself more of an Olympian now that he’s registered game time?

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’ll have to figure that out over time. I came here really not expecting to get out on the ice, but it was nice to be out there. It felt good to play.”

The U.S. women’s alternate has yet to play in Sochi with one game left Monday. That’s Allison Pottinger, who, unlike Craig Brown, already has one Olympics under her belt from 2010.

(Craig Brown actually attended the 1988 Olympics at age 12 to watch his sister curl at age 15 and was a mixed zone worker at the 2002 Olympics, but he never made an Olympic Team before now)

Pottinger’s rink lost in the Olympic Trails finals to Erika Brown’s rink. Twelve hours later, she said she received the request from Erika Brown, the woman who dashed her Olympic dreams to join her team in Sochi.

“I’m still on this low, and my whole team’s depressed,” Pottinger remembered. “You need to press the reset button a little bit. They called, and I was thrilled and all. At the same time I was like, oh my gosh, I don’t know. My knee-jerk reaction was yes, but I checked with my team, and they were really supportive of it. They said you’ve got to go. It’s a great opportunity.”

What does an alternate do at the Olympics, if they’re not playing?

“The little things that you don’t really notice,” Pottinger said.

Pottinger totes a paisley bag for such things.

Teammate Ann Swisshelm recently needed a cough drop. There Pottinger was, reaching into her bag.

“It’s like nothing, but it’s a big deal,” Pottinger said. “Otherwise it’s a nuisance, right? Taking care of all those little nuisances and having a positive attitude.”

One time somebody needed a tissue.

“I got it!” Pottinger said.

“What else do you have in that bag?” USA Curling director of high performance Derek Brown asked.

ChapStick. Advil. Deodorant. A nail file. Safety pins.

“I have like this whole pack of stuff,” Pottinger said.

The two alternates Pottinger and Craig Brown have spent a lot of time together, late nights at the Ice Cube Curling Center.

“We talk a little bit about rocks,” Pottinger said. “It’s nice to have a buddy.”

Their biggest duty is what’s called “matching rocks,” throwing competition stones after the completion of play in preparation for the next day’s games to gauge their variance. Not all stones are created equal.

Pottinger and Craig Brown normally don’t get back to the Olympic Village until 11:30 at night. Sometimes, the teams have to be up at 6 for morning matches.

“[Pottinger] is working probably harder than we are,” Swisshelm said.

Pottinger and Craig Brown will return to their normal teams after the Olympics.

Pottinger will actually fly home on Friday, two days before the Closing Ceremony, to prepare for the National Championships that begin March 1.

Craig Brown will be there, too. His rink is on an alphabetical qualified list of eight, eight spots above Shuster’s.

Frances Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz exit French Open, leaving no U.S. men

Frances Tiafoe French Open

Frances Tiafoe kept coming oh so close to extending his French Open match against Alexander Zverev: 12 times Saturday night, the American was two points from forcing things to a fifth set.

Yet the 12th-seeded Tiafoe never got closer than that.

Instead, the 22nd-seeded Zverev finished out his 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-1, 7-6 (5) victory after more than 3 1/2 hours in Court Philippe Chatrier to reach the fourth round. With Tiafoe’s exit, none of the 16 men from the United States who were in the bracket at the start of the tournament are still in the field.

“I mean, for the majority of the match, I felt like I was in control,” said Tiafoe, a 25-year-old from Maryland who fell to 1-7 against Zverev.

“It’s just tough,” he said about a half-hour after his loss ended, rubbing his face with his hand. “I should be playing the fifth right now.”

Two other American men lost earlier Saturday: No. 9 seed Taylor Fritz and unseeded Marcos Giron.

No. 23 Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina beat Fritz 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-5, and Nicolas Jarry of Chile eliminated Giron 6-2, 6-3, 6-7 (7), 6-3.

There are three U.S women remaining: No. 6 Coco Gauff, Sloane Stephens and Bernarda Pera.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

It is the second year in a row that zero men from the United States will participate in the fourth round at Roland Garros. If nothing else, it stands as a symbolic step back for the group after what seemed to be a couple of breakthrough showings at the past two majors.

For Tiafoe, getting to the fourth round is never the goal.

“I want to win the trophy,” he said.

Remember: No American man has won any Grand Slam title since Andy Roddick at the 2003 U.S. Open. The French Open has been the least successful major in that stretch with no U.S. men reaching the quarterfinals since Andre Agassi in 2003.

But Tiafoe beat Rafael Nadal in the fourth round of the U.S. Open along the way to getting to the semifinals there last September, the first time in 16 years the host nation had a representative in the men’s final four at Flushing Meadows.

Then, at the Australian Open this January, Tommy Paul, Sebastian Korda and Ben Shelton became the first trio of Americans in the men’s quarterfinals in Melbourne since 2000. Paul made it a step beyond that, to the semifinals.

After that came this benchmark: 10 Americans were ranked in the ATP’s Top 50, something that last happened in June 1995.

On Saturday, after putting aside a whiffed over-the-shoulder volley — he leaned atop the net for a moment in disbelief — Tiafoe served for the fourth set at 5-3, but couldn’t seal the deal.

In that game, and the next, and later on, too, including at 5-all in the tiebreaker, he would come within two points of owning that set.

Each time, Zverev claimed the very next point. When Tiafoe sent a forehand wide to end it, Zverev let out two big yells. Then the two, who have been pals for about 15 years, met for a warm embrace at the net, and Zverev placed his hand atop Tiafoe’s head.

“He’s one of my best friends on tour,” said Zverev, a German who twice has reached the semifinals on the red clay of Paris, “but on the court, I’m trying to win.”

At the 2022 French Open, Zverev tore ligaments in his right ankle while playing Nadal in the semifinals and had to stop.

“It’s been definitely the hardest year of my life, that’s for sure,” Zverev said. “I love tennis more than anything in the world.”

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2023 French Open women’s singles draw, scores

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At the French Open, Iga Swiatek of Poland eyes a third title at Roland Garros and a fourth Grand Slam singles crown overall.

The tournament airs live on NBC Sports, Peacock and Tennis Channel through championship points in Paris.

Swiatek, the No. 1 seed from Poland, can join Serena Williams and Justine Henin as the lone women to win three or more French Opens since 2000.

Having turned 22 on Wednesday, she can become the youngest woman to win three French Opens since Monica Seles in 1992 and the youngest woman to win four Slams overall since Williams in 2002.

FRENCH OPEN: Broadcast Schedule | Men’s Draw

But Swiatek is not as dominant as in 2022, when she went 16-0 in the spring clay season during an overall 37-match win streak.

She retired from her last pre-French Open match with a right thigh injury and said it wasn’t serious. Before that, she lost the final of another clay-court tournament to Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.

Sabalenka, the No. 2 seed, is her top remaining challenger in Paris.

No. 3 Jessica Pegula, the highest-seeded American man or woman, was eliminated in the third round. No. 4 Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, who has three wins over Swiatek this year, withdrew before her third-round match due to illness.

No. 6 Coco Gauff, runner-up to Swiatek last year, is the best hope to become the first American to win a Grand Slam singles title since Sofia Kenin at the 2020 Australian Open. The 11-major drought is the longest for U.S. women since Seles won the 1996 Australian Open.

MORE: All you need to know for 2023 French Open

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2023 French Open Women’s Singles Draw

French Open Women's Singles Draw French Open Women's Singles Draw French Open Women's Singles Draw French Open Women's Singles Draw