Nina Roth harbored hopes of curling in the Olympics ever since the sport returned to the Winter Games in 1998, when she was a Girl Scout.
It took nearly 20 years, but she’s now on her way.
Roth, a 29-year-old nurse from Wisconsin, led a four-woman team to win the U.S. Olympic Trials finals against Jamie Sinclair‘s rink in Omaha on Saturday.
Roth, the skip, plus vice skip Tabitha Peterson, second Aileen Geving and lead Becca Hamilton make up the U.S. Olympic women’s curling team. They’re all Olympic rookies. A fifth curler, an alternate, is expected to be added later.
Roth and Sinclair traded overtime wins Thursday and Friday, forcing a winner-goes-to-PyeongChang decider Saturday to end the three-game series.
In the ninth of 10 ends, Roth committed a hog-line violation that cost her the lead, failing to let go of her last stone before it passed a line that entered it into play.
“My heart dropped,” Roth told media later. “I haven’t done that in a couple years.”
But Roth scored two in the last end to win 7-6, thanks to Sinclair missing on her last throw.
One day when Roth was 10, and her mom was her Girl Scout troop leader, the troop tried curling at the local club in McFarland, Wis.
“I loved it and signed up for junior league immediately,” said Roth, whose dad was a recreational curler.
Roth showed early promise, winning two junior national titles. After watching the 2006 Olympic Trials in her hometown as a high schooler, she competed in the 2010 Olympic Trials when she was 20 (very young for a curler).
She has a tattoo of a curling stone and an American flag on her right foot.
Roth’s team is new and relatively young compared to the most recent U.S. Olympic women’s teams. They’re all between 27 and 30 years old.
USA Curling’s high performance program matched them together in June 2016.
“When I got the call that the HP team was putting us together, I was literally outside and put on my tennis shoes and went for a run,” Roth said. “I was so excited.”
Since, Roth and Hamilton regularly drove four hours northwest from Southern Wisconsin to Blaine, Minn., to meet Geving and Peterson for practices. They passed the time on Interstate 94 by singing along to early 2000s punk rock.
“Our favorite song, this is embarrassing, Weird Al [Yankovic‘s] ‘Albuquerque,'” Roth told NBC Olympic research in September of the 11-minute, 22-second epic. “Becca knows all the words already.”
Roth’s team lost to Sinclair at last season’s nationals but earned the worlds berth over Sinclair via better season-long results.
Roth’s team would finish fifth out of 12 teams at worlds in Beijing. Not bad considering the last three U.S. Olympic women’s teams combined to go 5-22 at the Games.
Roth curled Saturday with a reminder of worlds. A silver necklace in her pocket with a Superman emblem dangling from it. It was a gift from her 79- or 80-year-old grandmother.
“When I came home from Beijing, we took fifth, and just missed qualifying [for the four-team playoffs],” Roth said. “She said, ‘Nina, you played so well, I thought you deserved a medal.'”
Peterson, a 28-year-old pharmacist, is going to PyeongChang after being on the runner-up team at the 2014 Olympic Trials.
Geving, 30, made her first Olympic team at her fourth Trials.
Hamilton, 27, will be hoping older brother Matt will join her in PyeongChang. Matt is on John Shuster‘s team that plays a winner-goes-to-PyeongChang game Saturday night in Omaha (NBCSN, 7:30 ET).
The Hamiltons can also qualify for the Olympics in mixed doubles, a new event at the Winter Games. So can Roth with Kroy Nernberger. Those trials are in December in Blaine.
The U.S. has earned one Olympic curling medal, a 2006 men’s bronze. The best U.S. women’s finish was fourth in 2002. Curling was part of the first Winter Olympics in 1924 and every Olympics since 1998.
Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway and Great Britain are the world powers in curling.
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