Becca Hamilton, Matt Hamilton
AP

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

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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.”

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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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Swim meet canceled after FINA’s threat to ban athletes

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GENEVA (AP) — Amid growing conflict between swimmers and their world governing body, an international swimming meet was canceled on Thursday after threats to ban athletes who took part seeking better prize money.

The Italian swim federation called off the Dec. 20-21 competition it was organizing in Turin, saying it acted to protect athletes from FINA.

The Turin meet was linked to a proposed International Swimming League, a privately run operation which aims to operate outside FINA’s control and pay higher prize money.

“FINA declared the event ‘non-approved,’ threatening sanctions against the participating athletes,” Italian officials said in a statement.

FINA, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some Olympic champions have long criticized FINA, believing swimmers should be better rewarded, have more say in decisions, and could create their own union.

Olympic champion Adam Peaty of Britain wrote on Thursday on Twitter he was “incredibly disappointed” by the cancellation.

The politics involved will “galvanize swimmers, not break them,” wrote Peaty, who holds 50m and 100m breaststroke world records.

Peaty has previously supported Hungarian star Katinka Hosszu in her public criticism of FINA, and calls to create a swimmers’ union.

Italian organizers said Peaty, Hosszu and other Olympic champions including Chad le Clos of South Africa and Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden were due to take part in their 25-meter pool event. It was scheduled days after the short-course world championships being staged in Hangzhou, China.

The clash of events seemed to provoke FINA into finding more prize money for its worlds event in the smaller pool.

On Nov. 6, FINA added to its promised prize fund for China by almost doubling the total to $2.07 million.

FINA wrote to member federations on Oct. 30 warning of bans of up to two years for taking part in Turin.

However, a European Commission decision last year suggests swimmers could successfully challenge any attempt to limit their right to race and earn money.

The European Union’s executive arm ruled the International Staking Union in breach of anti-trust laws by threatening severe bans for speed skaters who wanted to compete in a South Korean-organized event in Dubai.

The ISU’s threats “also serve to protect its own commercial interests,” the European officials said.

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Simon Ammann believes ski jumping career end is near

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Simon Ammann, the most decorated active ski jumper with four Olympic gold medals, said it is hard to imagine competing beyond this season, according to Swiss newspaper Blick.

Ammann, 37, swept the individual Olympic titles in 2002 and 2010 to join retired Finn Matti Nykänen as the only four-time Olympic ski jumping champs.

In PyeongChang, his sixth Olympics, Ammann placed 11th and 13th, one month after making his first World Cup podium in nearly three years. He decided after those Winter Games that he would continue at least one more season, but has no plan to go all the way to a seventh Olympics in 2022, according to Blick.

Ammann has teased retirement since at least 2011 and even said going into the 2014 Sochi Olympics that he was “99 percent sure” they would be his final Games.

The now-father of two first gained crossover celebrity with his surprise Salt Lake City 2002 gold medals, his first wins in top-level international competition. The bespectacled Ammann’s victory screams and resemblance to Harry Potter helped land him on “The Late Show with David Letterman” and one of Europe’s biggest shows, sitting next to Shakira.

Fellow ski jumper Noriaki Kasai of Japan holds the Winter Olympic record of eight appearances. Kasai, 46, has said he plans to go for a ninth participation at Beijing 2022.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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