Area woman competes in Olympics
by Dorothy Bliskey
As this magazine reaches subscribers’ mailboxes around February 1st, one area woman will be landing in Sochi, Russia to compete in the Olympics. Debbie McCormick, a resident of Rio, Wisconsin is one of four women on the U.S. Women’s Curling Team. In fact, it’s the fourth time Debbie has been a member of this American team at the Olympics. She also was on the team when they competed in the 1998, 2002 and 2010 Olympics.
Curling, a game originating in Scotland and played on an icy surface, consists of two four-person teams sliding a 42-pound granite stone toward a target on the ice. The goal is to be the team with the most stones landing closest to the center button or bull’s-eye, thereby outscoring the opponent. The game consists of 10 “ends” which are similar to innings. A game of curling can last between two and three hours and is a low-scoring game. In addition to stones, a broom is used to sweep the ice as the stone heads toward its target.
“Curling involves a lot of strategy and communication between teammates,” McCormick said when being interviewed this past December. She notes that it wasn’t a full-medal Olympic sport until 1998 – the year she first competed in the Olympics. “It was a demonstration sport before that.”
The four-person team consists of positions referred to as lead, second, skip, and vice-skip. McCormick performs as the vice-skip. In that role, she delivers the 5th and 6th stone of each end (or inning). “I have a lot of variety in the shots I play with my position,” she said. “I help with strategy, and I sweep four stones per end (inning).”
“Curling is not a mainstream sport,” McCormick said. “Curlers don’t get paid thousands of dollars, and we don’t get big endorsements. We curl because we love it.”
But McCormick, who just turned 40 in January, didn’t always love it. Although she’s been curling since she was a nine-year old growing up in Madison, there was a time a few years ago when she was ready to throw in the towel. That occurred when the U.S. women’s curling team took 10th place at the 2010 Olympics. McCormick was devastated.
“I was very frustrated, mad and sad after the 2010 Olympics,” McCormick said. “My team and I had worked very hard to do well in Vancouver. I felt like all the hard work and dedication didn’t pay off. I didn’t think I would ever feel the love and excitement again for the game.”
Never say never.
She eased her way back into the game in 2011. “I started to get my competitive drive back and wanted to face my demons from the 2010 Olympics. I felt like I was competing well. I had a lot to contribute to the team, and I started having fun with the game again.”
In this year’s Olympics, McCormick – a member of the only U.S. women’s curling team at the event — will be competing against teams from Canada, Russia, Great Britain, Switzerland, China, Japan, Denmark, and Sweden. The group of teams will play a round robin, which consists of nine games. The top four teams will advance to the medal round.
“Curling is the longest-run sport in the Olympics,” McCormick explains. “We will be competing for 12 days.”
To prepare for the Olympics, McCormick, who is a member of the Pardeeville and Madison Curling Clubs, trains in Madison and plays on a league in Pardeeville. “I practice 4-5 times a week during our non-competition weeks,” she said, noting the curling season runs from mid-August to mid-April.
On the competitive circuit, her Olympic-bound team prepares by competing in about a dozen tournaments per year. Competitions take place as nearby as Green Bay, Minnesota, and Indiana and as far away as Canada, Scotland, Switzerland and Riga, Latvia (site of the world curling championships). To qualify as the U.S. women’s curling team that would compete at the Olympics, McCormick’s team won the 2013 U.S. National Curling Championship – beating three other U.S. teams to earn that honor.
In the month leading up to the February Olympics in Russia, McCormick and her curling teammates had a busy schedule. In early January they flew to Bern, Switzerland to compete. (It was there that McCormick celebrated her 40th birthday.) In mid-January they competed in the Curling Continental Cup in Las Vegas – a trip where her husband joined her. On February 1, McCormick and her team will fly to Switzerland for a few days of practice before heading to Russia on February 5.
Family members joining her in Russia are her husband Pete, her father Wally, brother Donnie, sister-in-law Courtney and two nephews – Carter and Wesley. McCormick, who will be in Russia from February 5-25, will stay in the Olympic Village.
She is looking forward to winning of course, but is also excited about visiting Russia. “I’ve never been to Russia before,” she said, noting she wants to experience the Russian culture. As for the high security and recent terrorist attacks in Russia, McCormick doesn’t seem nervous. “I am not a worrier, and we’re staying in a very secure area. I am just concentrating on curling.”
“The Olympics is the highest level we can achieve,” McCormick said. “It is a huge honor to be a member of the 2014 Olympic Team. My teammates and I will be on the same team as all of the other USA athletes, and that feels amazing!”
To check the curling schedule for the Olympic competition, which will be broadcast by NBC television stations, go online to www.teamusa.org.