John Shuster, the most experienced U.S. Olympic men’s curler in history, is actually the youngest male skip at the Olympic Trials that begin Saturday.
He’s also older than everybody in the women’s trials field — by at least five years.
The two trials tournaments in Omaha are a study in contrast. The results will be similar — one men’s team champion and one women’s team champion will become Olympic team members next week.
Every day of competition will stream live on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app starting with the first matches Saturday at 2 p.m. ET (full schedule here). NBCSN will air coverage of the finals Nov. 16, 17 and 18 (if necessary).
Five men’s teams and three women’s teams play round-robin action from Saturday through Wednesday. The top two on each side make the best-of-three finals, with the winner headed to PyeongChang in February.
Shuster, a 35-year-old with bartending experience, is trying to become the second American to curl at four Olympics.
He earned bronze as a role player in 2006 (the only U.S. Olympic curling team to make the podium). Shuster then led the 2010 and 2014 teams to forgettable performances — 0-4 before being benched in Vancouver, then 2-7 overall in Sochi.
But Shuster’s new team with Tyler George, Matt Hamilton and one Sochi holdover in John Landsteiner qualified to represent the U.S. at the last three worlds.
They were fourth, third and fifth at those championships, marking the best string of U.S. men’s or women’s results at that level in a decade.
Clearly, they are the favorites in Omaha after going undefeated at nationals last season.
But 41-year-old Heath McCormick skips a team slotted one spot behind Shuster in the world rankings (18th, 19th).
Brady Clark, a 40-year-old eyeing his first Olympic berth at his fourth trials, skips a team that swept Shuster and Co. in all three meetings at the 2016 U.S. Championships.
The most interesting team is led by Todd Birr, the oldest athlete in Omaha at 49 years old and potentially the oldest U.S. Winter Olympic competitor in 70 years.
Birr, the head ice maker at Four Seasons Curling Club in Blaine, Minn., competed in the first U.S. Olympic curling trials in 1998 and skipped the 2007 national champion team that earned bronze at worlds.
That was the most recent U.S. medal at an Olympics or worlds until Shuster’s bronze in 2016.
Though Birr reached the 2017 U.S. Championships finals, he has the lowest world rank in the men’s field — 51st, more than 20 spots behind everyone else.
Just three teams in the women’s field. All 12 women are from Minnesota or Wisconsin. All are 30 years and younger.
A stark contrast from the 2014 Olympic team that had women ages 40, 41 and 45 (and finished last, just as the 2010 team).
There is reason to believe the team that emerges next week will outperform the last three U.S. Olympic teams that combined to go 5-22 at the Games.
Nina Roth, a 29-year-old nurse, skips a team that finished fifth at last season’s world championships.
Jamie Sinclair, a 25-year-old born in Anchorage and raised in Ontario, leads a foursome that beat Roth at last season’s nationals. Roth was better over the course of the season, so Sinclair didn’t go to worlds.
Then there is Cory Christensen‘s team, the bulk of which won the 2016 World junior silver medal. All ages 22 and 23. They would be the youngest U.S. Olympic curling team ever. But they are also ranked No. 31 in the world, while Roth and Sinclair are 12th and 15th.
Many of the athletes competing next week are also entered in next month’s Olympic Trials for mixed doubles curling, a new Olympic event. One duo will qualify for PyeongChang.
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