Two McFarland curlers aim for their second shot at the Winter Olympics
Becca Hamilton and Nina Roth — both represented Team USA at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea — are hoping to become two-time Olympians if all goes well in Omaha this month.
Team USA was down 0-2 in the bronze medal game of the LGT World Women’s Curling Championship at the start of the fourth end, about halfway through the critical game. It was May 2021, and the women needed a win to secure a spot at the Olympic trials, which are being held this November at the Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska. They had just snuck through the qualification round with an 8-7 victory over Denmark, and now they were struggling to best Olympic gold medalist Anna Hasselborg of Team Sweden.
“The goal was to qualify; the medal was the icing on the cake,” says Becca Hamilton, who plays second for the team. “We played our best game and came out on top.”
They came back to secure a 9-5 victory, and now Hamilton and teammate Nina Roth — both representing Team USA at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea — are hoping to become two-time Olympians if all goes well in Omaha this month.
Hamilton and Roth both grew up and currently reside in McFarland, which also happens to be the home of the Madison Curling Club. They join a long line of Olympians who have practiced at the facility — a list that includes two-timer Lori Mountford, three-timer Erika Brown, four-timer Debbie McCormick and Olympic gold medalist Matt Hamilton, Becca Hamilton’s brother.
Both women’s families were deeply involved in the curling culture and each was introduced to curling at an early age. “My mom was a Girl Scouts troop leader and brought us down to the club because my dad had curled,” Roth says, “and I fell in love with it.”
Hamilton, on the other hand, admits it “took some pitching and crying” to get her to the club — but she wound up being “a little rink rat,” she says. “I would go there before school and after school. I curled in nine leagues a week. I would do my homework between games. I got bit by that curling bug right away.”
The sport of curling originated in Scotland in the 1800s, then quickly became established as a winter activity in small towns throughout the upper Midwest. “At one time we had the most curling clubs of any state in the country,” says Miranda Hofmann, president of the Madison Curling Club.
While the earliest curling clubs were established in flooded barns or sheds, the Madison Curling Club — which celebrates its centennial in 2021 — was founded by a group of University of Wisconsin–Madison professors who put “curling sheets” (aka the ice) under the bleachers at Camp Randall. After a few years, the organization moved to Burr Jones Field, along the Yahara River and East Washington Avenue.
In those days, facilities weren’t equipped with artificial chillers, so players were at the mercy of the weather. Hofmann says it’s interesting to look through old diaries in which early members noted whether they could play or not. The McFarland facility opened in 1998 and has six sheets of ice, which are maintained and playable from November through March.
Because 2022 is a Winter Olympics year, Hamilton and Roth traveled to Minneapolis midsummer to train with their teammates. During curling season, they practice five to six days per week, plus weightlifting, endurance and cardio workouts. Curling games often last up to three hours, so the players need full conditioning to be ready.
Despite their intense schedule as Olympic hopefuls, the duo emphasizes that curling can be enjoyed by everyone. Hofmann, whose entire family curls, especially appreciates curling’s inclusivity. She says the sport is embraced by children, people in their 80s and 90s and those with mobility issues, noting that there’s a wheelchair division.
“No matter what your ability is, you can curl,” Hofmann says. “That’s part of what is wonderful about curling: The whole family can do it. [It] really does help bridge generations.”
It also helps build connections between Olympians and everyday citizens. Hofmann is clearly brimming with pride when she talks about Roth and Hamilton and all they represent for the club and the sport.
“They’re competing at a world level, and then they’ll come back and curl in a league on a Monday,” says Hofmann. “It’s that type of sportsmanship that is part of what makes curling special. They’re approachable. They do a great job of being ambassadors and working with new curlers to get them to see some things and share their love of the game and the sport.”
After more than a year of cancellations and trying to find ice time wherever they could, Roth and Hamilton’s shared passion for the game has only grown stronger. Both women are excited to be competing again and are cautiously optimistic about the outcome at the Olympic trials.
“I want to win, and there’s stress in wanting to win, but it is nice to get out there and do what I love,” says Roth. “Winning the Olympic trials the first time was exciting. Now that we know what playing in the Olympics is like and we know what to expect, it makes us even more excited for the opportunity to represent Team USA.”
Candice Wagener is a contributing writer to Madison Magazine.
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