Ten duos will look to take a big step toward qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team by winning the mixed doubles Olympic Trials event, which starts Tuesday at the Curl Mesabi facility in Eveleth.
The event, which was moved from California to reduce travel and potential COVID-19 exposures, does not directly qualify the winning team for the 2022 Olympic tournament in Beijing, China.
Because the U.S. team did not finish high enough at the World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship in May 2021, the winner must then finish in the top two of an Olympic qualifying event in the Netherlands in December to progress to the Olympic tournament, which begins Feb. 2, 2022 at the "Water Cube," a venue made famous for hosting Michael Phelps' eight Olympic swimming triumphs.
Five of the 10 teams have ties to the Northland.
The one with both members from the area includes the name best known in U.S. curling: John Shuster. The Superior native with Chisholm roots is vying for his fifth Winter Olympic trip, though all of those previous appearances were in the four-man format. He teams with Duluth's Cory Christensen, herself an Olympian from the 2018 U.S. women's team.
Three of the five members from the 2018 men's Olympic gold medal team will attempt to qualify as part of a mixed doubles unit.
Joe Polo of Duluth will play with Tabitha Peterson of St. Paul. The pair won the USA Curling national championship in mixed doubles in both 2020 and 2016, with the latter victory leading to a bronze medal in the mixed doubles worlds of that season.
Chris Plys of Duluth and Vicky Persinger of Fairbanks, Alaska won the 2021 mixed doubles national championship. Polo was the alternate on the 2018 Olympic champions.
Aileen Geving of Duluth and Luc Violette of Edmonds, Washington qualified for this week by making the semifinals of the 2021 mixed doubles nationals. Geving was a 2018 Olympian.
Korey Dropkin is a Massachusetts native who moved to Duluth to study at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He's paired with Sarah Anderson of Broomall, Pennsylvania.
The 2018 Olympic representatives were the sibling team of Matt and Becca Hamilton of McFarland, Wisconsin, and they're back for a second bid. They went 2-5 in Pyeongchang, South Korea and finished sixth.
It's the second Olympic cycle for mixed doubles. Mixed doubles matches are a little shorter (eight ends) than four-person (10 ends). Each team throws five stones per end and some stones are pre-positioned.
Each of the 10 teams will play the others in nine draws, or rounds, from Tuesday through Friday night. The page playoffs for the top four teams begin on Saturday afternoon with the final taking place Sunday at 7 p.m. Central on NBCSN. There will also be a nationally televised playoff match on NBCSN on Saturday afternoon.
Tickets are available for the public. A link to the ticketing website can be found at curlmesabi.com.