PYEONGCHANG, South Korea—It’s somehow appropriate that two of the first American Olympians to compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics embody the best of what the United States sees in itself: individual excellence and unbreakable family bonds.
America, meet Becca and Matt Hamilton. The siblings were among the very first athletes to compete at the Olympics, taking to the ice two days before the Opening Ceremony. And if all goes well, you’ll spend the next two weeks, give or take, hearing an awful lot about this brother-and-sister curling duo. They hail from Wisconsin, the kind of heartland country that car companies package for commercials, and they’re angling to win medals not just for themselves but for each other. They’ve each qualified as individuals, and they also comprise the first-ever American mixed doubles curling team.
Curling is every casual Winter Olympics fan’s adoptive sport, in part because it’s an odd look to outsiders—wait, are they using brooms on the ice?—and in part because it looks like something you could actually do yourself. You’ve seen NBC’s promos, watched Mikaela Shiffrin and Shaun White carve from ice-white snow into impossibly blue skies, and you marvel that humans can ride even the world’s harshest environments with grace and speed and style.
And then you see curling, folks with the brooms clearing the way for a rock sliding down a sheet of ice, and you think, “hell, even I could do that.”
You couldn’t, any more than you’re qualified to drive the Daytona 500 because you navigate afternoon traffic. Not at this level, at least.
“You can take [curling] as seriously as you want,” Matt told Yahoo Sports before the Games began. “You can make it competitive, or you can drink a lot of beer while you do it.”
“It’s all about finesse, balance, and muscle memory,” Becca said.
It’s an easy sport to understand, and a difficult, bordering on impossible, one to master. And it’s a sport that the Hamilton siblings once wrote off as the kind of thing that old men did, trading lies and whiling away their time.
“I didn’t want anything to do with curling when I was younger,” Becca said. “I was playing soccer and lacrosse on traveling teams.”
But Matt’s dad, and later a few of his buddies, convinced him to give curling a try, and he was hooked. The strategy, the precision, the competition—it all spoke to him, and he threw himself into the sport with a dedication that surprised—and, in some cases, annoyed—the elders of curling.
“I compare the culture of curling to golf pre-Tiger Woods,” said Phill Drobnick, coach of Team USA. “It’s a very conservative culture. But like Tiger, Matt fist-pumps, he high-fives. There are rumblings about how ‘that’s not really what the sport is meant to be,’ but I think what Matt’s doing is great for the sport of curling.”
He and Becca are also becoming the first American darlings of the 2018 Olympics. They’ve already got their own hashtag–#HamFam–and promoted the Olympics with a little “bar curling” with Jimmy Fallon and Jason Sudeikis:
Matt’s trucker hat and ‘stache have set him up for meme’ing. He’s drawn comparisons to Mario:
— U.S. Olympic Team (@TeamUSA) February 8, 2018
Although he prefers the Aaron Rodgers resemblance:
— Matt Hamilton (@MattJamilton) February 8, 2018
Both Hamiltons are huge Rodgers fans, and they get loose before most matches by tossing around a football. Friday morning, they added a little swordfight to their repertoire, with Matt “drawing” the broom as if it were a scimitar and exchanging swipes with Becca.
For her part, Becca doesn’t have quite the big-screen personality that Matt does, but she’s the low-key heart of both the mixed-doubles combo and the women’s team.
“She’s a fierce competitor,” says teammate Aileen Geving. “She’s a spark plug. She radiates energy. If we’re not performing to the best of our ability, she’ll lay down the law.”
She’ll need to if the Hamiltons will continue to move forward in the mixed doubles competition. After winning their first match 9-3 over Olympic Athletes from Russia, the duo fell to Canada 6-4, and then faced undefeated Switzerland. The Hamiltons lost a 3-1 lead halfway through the match, finally getting blown out for six points in the final end. After three rounds, the United States stood in a tie for fifth in the seven-round round-robin event, and needs to ascend into fourth to make the semi-finals scheduled for Monday.
“I like pressure situations,” Matt said. “I like the moments where you have to be clutch, make the right move at the right time.”
He and his sister are getting their chance on the world’s biggest stage.