U.S. curler Craig Brown experienced an Oympic rarity

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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.

Olympian Derrick Mein ends U.S. men’s trap drought at shotgun worlds

Derrick Mein
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Tokyo Olympian Derrick Mein became the first U.S. male shooter to win a world title in the trap event since 1966, prevailing at the world shotgun championships in Osijek, Croatia, on Wednesday.

Mein, who grew up on a small farm in Southeast Kansas, hunting deer and quail, nearly squandered a place in the final when he missed his last three shots in the semifinal round after hitting his first 22. He rallied in a sudden-death shoot-off for the last spot in the final by hitting all five of his targets.

He hit 33 of 34 targets in the final to win by two over Brit Nathan Hales with one round to spare.

The last U.S. man to win an Olympic trap title was Donald Haldeman in 1976.

Mein, 37, was 24th in his Olympic debut in Tokyo (and placed 13th with Kayle Browning in the mixed-gender team event).

The U.S. swept the Tokyo golds in the other shotgun event — skeet — with Vincent Hancock and Amber English. Browning took silver in women’s trap.

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Mo Farah withdraws before London Marathon

Mo Farah
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British track legend Mo Farah withdrew before Sunday’s London Marathon, citing a right hip injury before what would have been his first 26.2-mile race in nearly two years.

Farah, who swept the 2012 and 2016 Olympic track titles at 5000m and 10,000m, said he hoped “to be back out there” next April, when the London Marathon returns to its traditional month after COVID moved it to the fall for three consecutive years. Farah turns 40 on March 23.

“I’ve been training really hard over the past few months and I’d got myself back into good shape and was feeling pretty optimistic about being able to put in a good performance,” in London, Farah said in a press release. “However, over the past 10 days I’ve been feeling pain and tightness in my right hip. I’ve had extensive physio and treatment and done everything I can to be on the start line, but it hasn’t improved enough to compete on Sunday.”

Farah switched from the track to the marathon after the 2017 World Championships and won the 2018 Chicago Marathon in a then-European record time of 2:05:11. Belgium’s Bashir Abdi now holds the record at 2:03:36.

Farah returned to the track in a failed bid to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, then shifted back to the roads.

Sunday’s London Marathon men’s race is headlined by Ethiopians Kenenisa Bekele and Birhanu Legese, the second- and third-fastest marathoners in history.

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