It's In Their Blood: Siblings Eye 1st Mixed Curling Gold At Winter Olympics

Jan 31, 2018
Originally published on February 6, 2018 1:04 pm

When Matt and Becca Hamilton are on the ice together, it's pure chemistry. The brother and sister compete in curling, the "roaring game" where players take turns lunging down a sheet of ice, pushing a 44-pound rock.

They sweep the ice with a special broom to help glide the rock to a target, known as the house. The team that ends up with rocks closest to the center of the house gets the points. It's similar to shuffleboard or even bocce ball.

"It's almost poetic," Matt, 27, says. "All you can hear is your broom sliding on the ice, and the rock sliding, the occasional sound of rocks hitting each other. It's kind of serene. It was very Zen."

Now, the Hamilton siblings are heading to PyeongChang next month to represent Team USA at the 2018 Olympics.

Matt and Becca Hamilton grew up watching their family curl at the Madison Curling Club in Wisconsin. Matt was not always impressed with the sport, he says.

"I remember in eighth grade, I watched my dad do it," he says. "And, I did not think it was cool when dad was doing it."

Matt eventually found an interest in the sport. He got hooked on curling and then taught his younger sister.

"Once I was drug out on the ice, I didn't look back," 26-year-old Becca says. "I was down [at the curling club] every single day before school and after school, playing in multiple leagues at night. I was hooked."

Matt is competing with the men's team, and Becca is playing with the women's team. But it's their mixed doubles that's getting all the attention.

The mixed doubles event is new to the 2018 Olympics, and the Hamiltons will be on the ice competing against seven of the best curling duos from around the world. The siblings are hoping to make it to the podium, taking home the first gold medal in mixed doubles curling.

The duo praise one another for their talent on the ice. Matt says he thinks Becca is the best female sweeper in the United States, and Becca says Matt can make almost any shot.

Their ability to communicate also drives their success, says their mixed doubles coach Jake Higgs.

"I would say it's a better vibe than you get from spouses or significant others playing together," Higgs says. "Typically when things blow up for spouses it can take a number of ends or games to talk to each other again or like each other again whereas with Matt and Becca, it's a quick transition."

Becca says her dynamic with Matt on the ice is different than with teammates on the women's squad.

"Matt and I feed off each other and we ground each other at the same time," Becca says. "So he's pretty involved with the crowd and he's got an upbeat personality and I'm kind of the calm out there that reels him back in when you need to."

And because they're related, Matt says they can be more open with each other.

"If someone's struggling or something like that, we can tell each other with absolute honesty what we're seeing and know that that's not going to offend her," Matt says. "I'm not telling her what she's doing wrong to be mean. She knows I'm doing it to help her get better and play better."

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Imagine working your entire life to make it to the Winter Olympics, to set yourself apart from the crowd, and then your brother or your sister ends up qualifying, too. And to top it all off, you're both competing in the same event. That is the reality for Matt and Becca Hamilton, who are heading to Pyeongchang to compete in curling. Wisconsin Public Radio's Maureen McCollum caught up with them at their curling club.

MAUREEN MCCOLLUM, BYLINE: During a recent afternoon at the Madison Curling Club, about a dozen curlers are on the ice, practicing their shots. Players are taking turns lunging down the sheet of ice while pushing a rock that's about 40 pounds.

(SOUNDBITE OF ICE SWEEPING)

MCCOLLUM: They sweep the ice with a special broom to help glide the rock to a target known as the house. The team that has rocks closest to the center of the house gets the points. It's similar to shuffleboard or even bocce ball. Matt and Becca Hamilton grew up watching their family curl at this club. Back then, Matt was not impressed.

MATT HAMILTON: I remember in eighth grade, I watched my dad do it. And I did not think it was cool when dad was doing it.

MCCOLLUM: But like so many of us, Matt eventually realized that what his dad was doing was actually cool. He got hooked on curling and then taught his sister, Becca.

BECCA HAMILTON: Once I was drug out the ice, I didn't look back. I was down here every single day before school, after school, playing in multiple leagues a night. I was hooked.

M. HAMILTON: It's almost poetic. All you can hear is, like, your broom sliding on the ice and the rock sliding and, you know, the occasional sound of rocks hitting each other. And it was kind of serene. It was almost like - it was very Zen.

MCCOLLUM: But for people watching the Hamiltons, it may not seem that Zen. Here they are on NBC's "Curling Night In America."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CURLING NIGHT IN AMERICA")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Unintelligible).

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: About to curl now. Becca's got them going - hard to get it by the guard.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Go. Go. Go. Go. Whoa, whoa...

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: They're right on the top of the button now.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Nice shot - come on.

MCCOLLUM: Now the Hamiltons are heading to the Olympics. Matt is competing with the men's team. Becca is playing with the women's team. But it's their mixed doubles that's getting all the attention. In the new event, it's just the Hamiltons out on the ice competing against seven of the best curling duos from around the world. Becca says her dynamic with Matt is different on the ice than with her other women's teammates.

B. HAMILTON: Matt and I feed off each other. And we ground each other at the same time. So he's pretty involved in the crowd. And he's got a upbeat personality. And I'm kind of the calm (laughter) out there that reels him back in when you need to.

MCCOLLUM: And because they're related, Matt says they can be more open with each other.

M. HAMILTON: If someone's struggling or something like that, we can tell each other with absolute honesty what we're seeing and know that that's not going to, like, offend her. I'm not going to, like - I'm not telling her what she's doing wrong to be mean. She knows I'm doing it to help her get better and play better.

MCCOLLUM: The Hamilton's mixed doubles coach, Jake Higgs, credits that for driving their success.

JAKE HIGGS: I would say it's a better vibe than you get from, say, spouses or significant others playing together. Typically when things blow up with regard to spouses, it can take a - you know, a number of ends or games for them to kind of talk to each other again or like each other again, whereas with Matt and Becca, it's a quick transition.

MCCOLLUM: But you can't get to the Olympics just on communication. Higgs says Matt and Becca are both incredibly talented curlers. Neither is dominant, and they know what their strengths are.

M. HAMILTON: She's, in my opinion, the best female sweeper in the United States.

MCCOLLUM: And Becca says Matt can make almost any shot. Now the Hamiltons are hoping to make it to the podium at the Olympics, taking home the first ever gold in mixed doubles curling. For NPR News, I'm Maureen McCollum in Madison. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.