Spike in curling interest ahead of U.S. Olympic Trials in Aksarben

Published: Nov. 7, 2021 at 8:14 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The Beijing Winter Olympics are just months away, and for the second time, Omaha has been chosen to host the U.S. Curling Olympic trials.

The trials, held at Baxter Arena from Nov. 12-21, has sparked more interest in the sport locally.

Every Sunday, a fresh sheet of ice at Baxter is waiting to welcome new athletes to the athletic challenge of curling.

“It’s a very fun sport, it’s very fast, there’s a lot going on,” says Nic Ridder, the president of the Aksarben Curling Club.

Ridder and Kaeli Samson, the club’s vice president, lead a group of 25 to 35 beginners as they learn the fundamentals of the sport at their weekly Learn to Curl sessions.

For the first hour, students are taught the sport’s vocabulary, rules, techniques and scoring of the game. After that, they compete in a friendly game as they get more comfortable on the ice.

“It was interesting, always watched it, thought it was a little simpler, learned it was a little harder than I thought but so much fun,” says Timothy Marshall, a first-time curler who was encouraged to learn to curl thanks to a friend in a local league.

”There’s so many individual steps in the game, from the lunging to the release to finding your target, putting it all together you have to really think and concentrate more in this sport than any other sport I’ve played so shockingly it’s a lot harder than it looks,” says Jennifer Peters, who was at her second learn to curl session.

Much of the renewed interest in the sport comes from the U.S. Olympic Trials, which Aksarben Curling Club members hopes will mark Omaha as an up-and-coming destination for the sport.

Both Ridder and Samson got involved in the sport after watching the trials in Omaha in 2018.

“I actually was at the last trials and that was where I got engaged with the sport more closely, I watched it on TV before but that’s when I discovered the club in town, got involved, and I’ve been curling a lot ever since,” Ridder says.

The Aksarben Curling Club was once a premiere league in the area, and Ridder says he believes the club can get to that point again, based on the increased interest spurred by the trials.

“I expect in the next few years we’re going to see a ton of growth with this organization, and maybe other curling organizations possibly around the region,” he says.

Lisa Truesdell, a board member for the club, agrees.

“As we’re heading up to the trials, we’re definitely seeing more interest, and I know we’ll get another bump after the actual Olympics too.”

Truesdell began curling in 2016 thanks to a friend.

“I figured if anything, it would be a funny story but we’re still coming back week after week, six years later, so I guess it worked out,” she says.

Seeing the 2018 trials offered her a new perspective on the sport.

“Just getting to see curling at that level that close up when we were just barely learning and struggling on our own was just flabbergasting,” she says. “I think everyone thinks it’s so easy, but once you’ve done it and tried it and watched them, it’s just a whole different level.”

Beginners say that after playing, they’ve gained a new perspective too.

“Now watching it on the Olympics, I have a greater appreciation for the sport in general,” Peters says.

“I mean that’s what makes things more enjoyable,” Marshall says. “If you understand what’s going on you’re a lot more invested in it, so I’m definitely a lot more invested in curling now. I’m getting a little bit older so I can’t do the intense football and basketball anymore so I wanted to give this a try and it was absolutely fun.”

Ticket information for the trials can be found here.

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