Gold medalist sees curling on the rise

Photo for the Mirror by Rob Lynn Olympic curling gold medalist Tyler George throws out the first pitch at Sunday’s Curve game.

Vancouver, Sochi, PyeongChang — or in the case of 2022 — Beijing.

Generally, the sport of curling only gets attention whenever it’s on the Olympic stage.

One man who has helped lead the recent explosion in the sport following the USA’s gold medal in 2018 is hoping that it was just the beginning for the sport here at home.

Sunday afternoon, Tyler George brought his love of throwing the rock to Altoona in an event hosted by the Rail City Curling Club at Galactic Ice.

“There’s clubs popping up in parts of the country where you didn’t know curling existed,” George said. “Working as an ambassador for USA Curling, I had stops in California, Texas, the Carolinas.

“I have a trip to Alabama coming up in a couple of weeks.”

The Duluth, Minn., native got his start in the sport thanks to his parents who ran the local curling club.

George joined John Shuster, Matt Hamilton, John Landsteiner and Joe Polo for the national team’s first medal since its bronze finish at the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy.

George’s appearance in Altoona was thanks in part to some friends to the southeastern boarder of Pennsylvania.

“The curling community is so tight knit that everybody has email addresses for everybody else,” Rail City Curling Club’s Jon Christoff said. “The curling club down in Delaware who welcomed us once we got started, their president sent me an email and say ‘hey, Tyler George is going to be down at our place and he’s going to be traveling.”

“It was just a matter of coordinating with Tyler.”

The President of the Nittany Valley Curling Club couldn’t pass up the chance to learn from one of the game’s best.

“It’s not something we’re going to come across everyday, the experience of an Olympian,” Mark Lachendro said. “That’s something that we certainly don’t have. They make it look so simple.”

Lachendro’s club has members as young as 7 years old after having launched just this past June.

George stepped away from competing after the gold medal win, but has stayed involved in an ambassador role since. He’s enjoyed giving a hard time to his former teammates as he gets to travel to some much warmer climates at this time of the year.

“It’s fun for me because the rest of my guys are still competing even though I stepped away from competition,” he said. “When I’m touring around in West Palm Beach at their new club and they’re in Saskatoon in 2 feet of snow, I can send them pictures from where I’m at and prod them a little bit.”

He was part of four curling world championship teams in 2010, 2015-2017 in addition to the gold medal win in 2018. The first time he competed on the national level came in 2001 when he was part of the World Junior Curling Championships.

“Anytime we have the public eye at any point is huge for us,” he said. “Our goal is to not have that big gap between PeyongChang and Beijing.

“We’re not seeing a drop-off in interest. We have a major opportunity to do something now for the sport.”

Professional opportunities weren’t there for him the way they are for some pro athletes, so to make ends meet, he worked at the family liquor store at home as the general manager.

Even though he may have gotten the medal just over a year ago, the fact he was part of the first team to take the top prize still hasn’t settled in yet.

“It’s so surreal,” he said. “It’s been a year and a half, and it still hasn’t sunk in. There isn’t any way for your brain to process you won an Olympic gold medal.”

The United States led the match late 10-5 heading into the final end, but even with that much of a lead, George even admitted it was hard to not think about messing it up.

“I told people many times that we had tunnel vision for the first eight ends of that game,” he said. “When it’s a tight game, you’re just focused on what you’re doing. When you get that five-point lead, then all of a sudden it turns into, ‘oh my god, don’t mess this up.'”

Then, the emotions caught up to him.

“I didn’t have any emotional moments until the medal ceremony. You can see from our expressions afterwards we’re holding our hands in the air looking at our family and friends wondering, ‘did it actually happen?'”

George hopes that in future years that involvement in the sport will double with professional opportunities even coming for some of them.

“People that come out to try this sport realize it’s nothing like they thought it was on TV,” he said. “We want you to show up and try it.

“I’ve never once had a single person go on the ice and walk off and say ‘yeah, it’s just what I thought it was.'”