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Curling Capital U.S.A.: Olympics puts Bemidji signature sport in the spotlight

Joel Johannsen stretches out as he releases his stone on Tuesday, Feb. 6, at the Bemidji Curling Club. Jordan Shearer / Forum News Service 1 / 2
Ted DeVries sweeps a path for his curling stone on Tuesday, Feb. 6, at the Bemidji Curling Club. Jordan Shearer / Forum News Service2 / 2

BEMIDJI, Minn.—The Winter Olympics always make for a special time in "Curling Capital U.S.A."

Bemidji, Minn., the home of America's only Olympic medal-winning curling team, has been a hotbed for the sport for generations and will be represented once again at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games that begin this week.

Pete Fenson will temporarily step away from his duties as the owner of Dave's Pizza to serve as an analyst for NBC's curling telecasts for the second straight Olympics.

It is widely known around these parts that Fenson skipped the Bemidji-based U.S. team to a bronze medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics. Fenson has his theories on how a town of 15,000 has produced so many Olympians and national champions.

"You know, I've never really been able to put my finger on it, except success sort of breeds success," Fenson said. "I learned from the guys that came before us, the champions that were there from Bemidji before myself. They helped teach me how to play, and they helped teach me at a high level and that's what we've always tried to do, too, is pass that along now. I've got two sons that have played internationally at world championships, and I think (success) just kind of, at some point, starts to breed on itself."

Mixed doubles curling made its Olympic debut in the early morning hours Thursday, Jan. 8, to kick off the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, which is 15 hours ahead of Minnesota. The Opening Ceremony will take place at 5 a.m. central time Friday, Feb. 9. NBC will air the ceremony live and also rebroadcast it at 7 p.m. Friday.

Fenson will work out of NBC Sports' International Broadcast Center in Stamford, Conn., for the duration of the Olympics. The bronze medalist is no stranger to the broadcast booth, having also worked telecasts of world championships and NBC Sports' Curling Night in America.

Although broadcasting the Olympics isn't the same as competing in them, Fenson relishes the opportunity to stay involved in the sport at its highest level.

"It's night and day different, obviously," Fenson said. "I classify both as work but (with) different goals and different obligations with each, being a player versus being a broadcaster. But it's a really great thing. It's an exciting opportunity for me."

Two members of Fenson's 2006 Torino team will compete for gold in Pyeongchang. John Shuster will skip the Duluth-based U.S. men's team, and Bemidji native Joe Polo will serve as an alternate. The team also includes John Landsteiner, Tyler George and Matt Hamilton.

Fenson spent more than 10 years curling with Polo and has competed in world championships with Polo, Shuster and George.

"I had some great years with those guys," Fenson said. "...They were great guys to play with. They're great teammates, they're obviously great players. It's been fun to watch them develop as championship-caliber players."

Hamilton will compete alongside his sister, Becca, in the mixed doubles event, which runs through Feb. 13. The U.S. women's team, based out of Madison, Wis., is skipped by Nina Roth and also features Tabitha Peterson, Aileen Geving, Becca Hamilton and Cory Christensen.

The men's tournament will run Feb. 14-24 and the women's from Feb. 14-25.

"I'm optimistic about the U.S.'s chances," Fenson said. "We've got three great teams between the men, the women and the mixed doubles team. I think all of them are medal contenders and it should be exciting to see how things end up."

More curling ahead for Bemidji

Curling season is just getting warmed up in Bemidji.

The Bemidji Curling Club will host the 2018 USA Curling U18 National Championships from Feb. 21-25.

Bemidji curler Graem Fenson, Pete's son, and his colleagues on Team Stopera won their second straight title at the 2018 USA Curling Junior National Championships last week in Michigan.

More members of the Fenson family will soon compete at the 2018 USA Curling National Championships in Fargo, March 3-10. Pete will skip a team that includes his son, Alex Fenson, as well as Bemidji's Mark Fenner and Chisholm's Shawn Rojeski.

Bemidji curler Natalie Nicholson will also compete at nationals in the women's division.

Austin Monteith

Austin Monteith is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He is an Illinois native and a Butler University graduate. Follow him on Twitter @amonteith92.

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