SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Meet the Browns, unofficially the U.S. First Family of Curling.
There’s Erika, skip of the women’s team competing in the Sochi Olympics. Her brother, Craig, is also in Russia as an alternate for the men’s team.
Then there’s Steve and Diane Brown, the parents, who also curled for the U.S. Steve will be coaching the U.S. wheelchair team in the Sochi Paralympics next month.
Between the four natives of Madison, Wisconsin, the Browns have won 19 national titles in singles and mixed competition dating back to the mid-1980s, and — just for good measure — own the biggest curling retailer in the United States.
Oh, and Erika is married to three-time Canadian and world curling champion Ian Tetley.
Perhaps it’s not a surprise that the `First Family’ nickname has stuck. Curling is in their blood.
“Certainly if our children want to play, they will get some proper training,” Craig said, with a smile.
And the latest generation is already being groomed — Erika says her kids, 6-year-old Cole and 7-year-old Nathan, have already tried curling and are on the ice “at least every week or two.”
“As soon as they get a little bigger, we will work on it,” Erika says. “I’m hoping they’ve got some genes in there that are going to spur this onto the next generation.”
For the moment, though, the focus is on bringing home a first Olympic medal to add to the family collection of silverware. As it stands, Erika appears to be in the best position to accomplish that, with her experienced team that also contains Debbie McCormick, Jessica Schultz and Ann Swisshelm among the favorites in Sochi.
Twenty-six years after competing in her first Olympics, as a 15-year-old schoolgirl in Calgary, Erika is back for her third and likely last shot at the biggest prize in the sport.
“It’s been a long time,” said the 41-year-old Erika, who was first taken to watch her dad curl when she was just 7 days old. “I had a few flashbacks walking in (to the Opening Ceremony), with my team and my brother. We walked in together. It was great.”
The Sochi experience will be slightly different for Craig. While her sister will be running the show for the women’s team, he will probably have to be satisfied simply being the rock-tester and biggest cheerleader for the men’s team.
As the alternate, he is unlikely to play a competitive role on the ice but will still pick up a medal if the U.S. reaches the podium under skip John Shuster. On current form that is unlikely, although the U.S. did win bronze in Turin in 2006.
“I’m here to help these guys do whatever they can to win,” he said.
For his day job, Craig runs the family shop, which he says is “maybe the biggest independent curling retailer in the whole world.”
Whatever the results in Sochi, it’ll be a landmark Olympics for the Brown family. Erika’s husband and Craig’s wife and son are flying in to Sochi for the Olympics. Diane and Steve will be watching on TV in the early hours back in Madison.
“We just love the sport, everything about it,” Craig says. “There’s nothing not to love about it.”