There’s no better way to get acquainted with young curling talent coming up the ranks than to pay attention to the action at the Winter Youth Olympic Games this January in Lausanne, Switzerland. With 24 nations participating in curling this year, there are athletes representing everywhere from Brazil to Estonia, from New Zealand to Hungary, and many places in between.
All this new talent means new storylines to follow and hopes of Olympic glory to watch unfold. Get started learning about the stars of the Games by digging into the backgrounds of these three mixed teams.
Representing the United States of America
Some teams have curled with each other for years and others, like this year’s team from the United States, met over time at various curling events. With two members living in Boston, one in Ohio and the other in Wisconsin, the team has had to work hard on their limited ice time together to develop a winning dynamic. They qualified for the Youth Olympic Games at the American trials, held in Denver, Colorado in October 2019.
“We have been training long and hard for this, by practicing together, travelling to bonspiels to compete with one another and so much training,” said lead Alina Tschumakow. “We have to travel often to practice with our full team, as we are scattered across the States.”
Their practice paid off when they beat out others in their age group to represent the United States in Lausanne. But since then, the learning hasn’t stopped. “Since qualifying I feel like I have learned a lot about curling both mentally and physically,” said Katie Murphy. “Athletically, my delivery has changed so much thanks to our coach John.”
Those thoughts were echoed by her teammate, skip Ethan Hebert, “I expect an amazing learning experience for myself,” he said. “This will by far be the biggest stage I have ever played on in my athletic career and I am excited to get to soak up as much of it as I possibly can.”
The group knows the experience will be another learning curve for them to conquer, but it’s one they’re ready to face. “I expect to be challenged, both on the ice and off,” said second Charlie Thompson. “This is a completely new arena for me — traveling across the world to compete at the highest level possible is a lot of pressure, especially since I’m competing under the United States flag. I expect this whole experience to be like nothing I’ve experienced before.”
The athletes representing Denmark in Lausanne are not entirely new to Olympic events. In 2019 Kilian Thune and Karolina Jensen attended the European Youth Olympic Festival in Sarajevo.
“It was an amazing experience,” Thune said. “You really get the Olympic feeling and you meet so many different people from all around the world that do other sports. So I definitely expect the same thing – even bigger – from the Youth Olympic Games.”
Thune will join with teammates Jonathan Vilandt, Natalie Asp Wiksten and Karolina Jensen for the Youth Olympic Games.
“I am looking forward to see the Olympic village and experience other sports on a high level,” said Vilandt.
Curling has taken these youth all the way around the world to compete. “Last year I went to Sarajevo, Scotland, Sweden and Finland,” said Jensen, “and this year I will go to Lausanne, Russia and Canada.”
She will represent Denmark at the World Women’s Curling Championship 2020 in Prince George, British Columbia, Canada, from 14-22 March.
The previous Olympic experience has made the team realistic about the challenges they’ll be faced with on the ice. “It’s going to be a tough journey,” said Thune. “I’ll give everything I have and I know the team will do the same. At the end I just hope to get a great experience, you don’t experience something like this every day.”
Representing New Zealand
There’s a legacy of Olympic curling running through this New Zealand team. Second player Will Becker is the nephew of Sean Becker, who was the flag bearer for Team New Zealand at the 2006 Torino Olympic Winter Games. Yet, though the family ties to curling certainly inspired Becker, the entire team’s involvement in curling has been largely credited to the community — all team members are from the Maniototo Area in Central Otogo. This part of New Zealand is known for its strong local support of curling.
So strong is the love of curling Maniototo that when New Zealand athlete Zoe Harman fell in love with curling she decided she needed to move there. “I was going to curling lessons for school kids at our international curling rink in Naseby when the idea of Youth Olympics suggested to me by one of the coaches, Peter Becker,” said Harman. “After finding out about the Games I decided that I was going to make it a goal and do it and nothing would stop me. I changed schools and moved permanently to the Maniototo to be closer to the Maniototo International Curling Rink and got myself a good pair of curling shoes so I was ready to go right then and there.”
Harman, who won bronze at the New Zealand nationals, before following that up with winning the New Zealand under 21 nationals, said one of her most significant curling milestones was actually something quite simple: that first pair of curling shoes. “Getting proper curling shoes was really important. As soon as I got my shoes I really enjoyed sliding out and going fast.”
“It will be really exciting to meet curlers and people from other winter sports. It is definitely a very important event and I feel really privileged to be part of something so cool,” she said. “I am not quite sure what to expect but I have been following the buildup to the games on Instagram. The venues, athlete accommodation and events they have organised for us sound great.”
Now is the perfect time to discover athletes who are on the rise and track their careers as they compete for big wins on the world stage. Get to know all the athletes competing at the Youth Olympic Games by following the action at: https://worldcurling.org/events/yog2020/