It’s all about family as curling Hamiltons vie for Olympics

Becca Hamilton, Matt Hamilton
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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — When one of his games at the U.S. Olympic curling trials was in a lull, Matt Hamilton couldn’t help but take a peek at the proceedings on the adjacent ice sheet. That’s where his sister Becca was playing.

The Hamiltons of McFarland, Wis., are here together to chase their Olympic dreams.

“It’s kind of a surreal feeling,” Matt said. “I’ve watched her come up and learn how to curl. I started two years before her, and I kind of coached her a little bit all the way through. Now to see her playing at the top level in the U.S. and be a contender along with myself in the same event is just awesome.”

Matt, 28, is a member of the team skipped by three-time Olympian and 2006 bronze medalist John Shuster, one of five competing to become the U.S. men’s team in PyeongChang.

Becca, 27, is the 2017 USA Curling Female Athlete of the Year and on the team skipped by Nina Roth, one of three in the women’s division vying for an Olympic berth.

“Really a special opportunity for my brother and I to be here,” Becca said. “We’ve been working our butts off for the last four years for this opportunity. I’m glad he’s by my side.”

MORE: Curling trials preview, broadcast schedule

Next month, Matt and Becca will compete together as one of eight two-player teams in the mixed doubles trials in Blaine, Minn. Mixed doubles makes its Olympic debut in PyeongChang. The Hamiltons are the 2017 national champions.

“Matt and I are a force to be reckoned with,” Becca said. “We work well together on the ice and off the ice.”

In men’s and women’s play, each team is made up of four players. Players alternate delivering 42-pound stones down a narrow, 150-foot sheet into a 12-foot target area known as the “house.” The skip stands in the house when not delivering and calls out where he or she wants the player to place the stone.

Two teammates follow the stone as it’s moving and, as commanded by the skip, vigorously sweep the ice in front of the stone to cause it to slide farther or alter its direction. Teams are awarded points for their stones winding up closest to the center of the house. The game lasts 10 ends, akin to innings in baseball.

The Hamiltons are among a host of family members who have competed together at the highest levels of curling over the years. Twin sisters Sarah and Taylor Anderson are at the trials with the Cory Christensen-skipped team. Sisters Cassie and Jamie Johnson were on the 2006 Olympic team.

Matt and Becca both played soccer, among other sports, before they were introduced to curling. Their father, Scott, curled in a league for about a year, but Matt didn’t get into the sport until a friend invited him to try it in 2004. Two years later Becca began playing.

Scott and Cathy Hamilton both are in Omaha to cheer on their kids.

“My mom and dad are super proud,” Becca said. “They’re with us every step of the way in every tournament we’re in, and that’s all we can ask for.”

Brother and sister spend hours in the gyms working on strength and conditioning.

“When you go out there and sweep 30 seconds as hard as you can, you have a minute and a half to be ready to go and do it again,” Matt said. “Doing it on short bursts with 100 percent effort is the main thing.”

Matt’s day job is as a research and development technician for Spectrum Brands near Madison, Wis. He adjusts his work schedule so he can train and travel across the nation, and world, for competitions.

Becca is in the Dick’s Sporting Goods Olympic Hopefuls Program, which allows her to concentrate on her curling while squeezing in hours at a Dick’s store whenever she can.

“I’m my sister’s biggest fan, and I know she’s mine,” Matt said. “We love to compete against each other. We love to chirp in each other’s ears. She’s really witty. I might say something, but she’ll get me back for sure. It’s a fun relationship, and she’s a good little sister, and I wouldn’t trade her for anybody.”

It was apparent Sunday, when both were playing at the same time, that big brother keeps an eye on her.

“Maybe on big shots I looked up at the Jumbotron and saw their situation and thought about what I would do,” Matt said. “We both know we have to take care of our business. The majority of the focus is on our game, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t look at hers.”

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MORE: 100 PyeongChang Olympic storylines

USA Boxing to skip world championships

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USA Boxing will not send boxers to this year’s men’s and women’s world championships, citing “the ongoing failures” of the IBA, the sport’s international governing body, that put boxing’s place on the Olympic program at risk.

The Washington Post first reported the decision.

In a letter to its members, USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee listed many factors that led to the decision, including IBA governance issues, financial irregularities and transparency and that Russian and Belarusian boxers are allowed to compete with their flags.

IBA lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers in October and said it would allow their flags and anthems to return, too.

The IOC has not shifted from its recommendation to international sports federations last February that Russian and Belarusian athletes be barred, though the IOC and Olympic sports officials have been exploring whether those athletes could return without national symbols.

USA Boxing said that Russian boxers have competed at an IBA event in Morocco this month with their flags and are expected to compete at this year’s world championships under their flags.

“While sport is intended to be politically neutral, many boxers, coaches and other representatives of the Ukrainian boxing community were killed as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including coach Mykhaylo Korenovsky who was killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in January 2023,” according to the USA Boxing letter. “Ukraine’s sports infrastructure, including numerous boxing gyms, has been devastated by Russian aggression.”

McAtee added later that USA Boxing would still not send athletes to worlds even if Russians and Belarusians were competing as neutrals and without their flags.

“USA Boxing’s decision is based on the ‘totality of all of the factors,'” he said in an emailed response. “Third party oversite and fairness in the field of play is the most important factor.”

A message has been sent to the IBA seeking comment on USA Boxing’s decision.

The women’s world championships are in March in India. The men’s world championships are in May in Uzbekistan. They do not count toward 2024 Olympic qualifying.

In December, the IOC said recent IBA decisions could lead to “the cancellation of boxing” for the 2024 Paris Games.

Some of the already reported governance issues led to the IOC stripping IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition in 2019. AIBA had suspended all 36 referees and judges used at the 2016 Rio Olympics pending an investigation into a possible judging scandal, one that found that some medal bouts were fixed by “complicit and compliant” referees and judges.

The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

Boxing was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games announced in December 2021, though it could still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” IOC President Thomas Bach said then.

This past June, the IOC said IBA would not run qualifying competitions for the 2024 Paris Games.

In September, the IOC said it was “extremely concerned” about the Olympic future of boxing after an IBA extraordinary congress overwhelmingly backed Russian Umar Kremlev to remain as its president rather than hold an election.

Kremlev was re-elected in May after an opponent, Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands, was barred from running against him. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in June that van der Vorst should have been eligible to run against Kremlev, but the IBA group still decided not to hold a new election.

Last May, Rashida Ellis became the first U.S. woman to win a world boxing title at an Olympic weight since Claressa Shields in 2016, taking the 60kg lightweight crown in Istanbul. In Tokyo, Ellis lost 3-0 in her opening bout in her Olympic debut.

At the last men’s worlds in 2021, Robby Gonzales and Jahmal Harvey became the first U.S. men to win an Olympic or world title since 2007, ending the longest American men’s drought since World War II.

The Associated Press and NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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Sweden weighs 2030 Winter Olympic bid after IOC meeting

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Sweden’s Olympic leaders are weighing up whether to bid for the Winter Games in 2030.

The Nordic country’s potential entry into the race to stage the 2030 Games comes at a time when the International Olympic Committee has delayed the process and is searching around for more contenders to host the event.

Sapporo, Japan, was considered the favorite before an ongoing bid-rigging scandal related to the Summer Olympics in Tokyo held in 2021. Salt Lake City is the only other known bidder that might consider taking 2030, though officials have said they favor a bid for 2034.

A joint Stockholm-Are bid from Sweden lost out to another shared bid, from Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy, to stage the Winter Games in 2026 amid a lack of clear public support in Sweden and some government upheaval at local and national level in the run-up to the vote.

There was reportedly discontent in Stockholm over how the Swedish bid was treated in the contest for the 2026 Games.

The Swedish Olympic and Paralympic Committees and the Swedish Sports Confederation will start a feasibility study for 2030, they said Wednesday. A report from the study will be presented on April 20.

“These are new times now and the feasibility study will show how the Olympics and Paralympics can be shaped based on Sweden’s conditions,” said Anders Larsson, acting chairman of the Swedish Olympic Committee. “We already have virtually all the arenas required to arrange the largest Winter Games.”

The committee’s secretary general, Åsa Edlund Jönsson, said the 2030 Games “could be a campfire to rally Sweden around.”

“The idea is to review the concept that existed for the candidacy in 2026, which would mean competitions in several places in Sweden,” Jönsson said, specifically referencing Stockholm and the regions of Dalarna and Jämtland. “Here we feel confident that there is great experience in arranging world-class winter championships in the Swedish sports movement.”

The Stockholm-Are bid for 2026 even included plans to stage ice-sliding sports across the Baltic Sea at a venue in Latvia to avoid building a white elephant venue in Sweden — a key demand of IOC reforms to cut Olympic hosting costs.

The idea of Sweden potentially joining the 2030 race came up at a meeting in Lausanne in January.

“We have had a meeting with the IOC that was about, without obligation from any quarter, looking at the Games in 2030,” Larsson said. “During that meeting, it was clear that the IOC liked our concept for 2026. What the feasibility study will provide answers to is whether we are ready to move forward in the process.”

Sweden hosted the Summer Olympics in 1912 but never a Winter Games, despite the country being an established giant in winter sports.

It has made eight failed bids to stage the Winter Games.

Gunilla Lindberg, who is on the Swedish Olympic Committee, is also an IOC member and on its panel tasked with finding potential future hosts for the Winter Games.

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