Team Clark wins U.S. curling championship
Annie Mulligan / For The Herald
Lynnwood's Brady Clark (right) and teammate Philip Tilker practice at the Granite Curling Club in Seattle last month.
Annie Mulligan / For The Herald
Philip Tilker (left) and Sean Beighton watch a stone slide down the ice during practice at the Granite Curling Club in Seattle last month.
As he prepared for his last shot in the men's final at the Feb. 9-16 U. S. Curling Championships in Green Bay, Wis., and with his team trailing by one point, Clark needed a perfectly thrown stone to give his team not only a national title, but also a spot in the March 30-April 7 world championships in Victoria, B.C.
Though the shot was certainly makeable, "it wasn't a gimme," said Philip Tilker, one of Clark's teammates. To make a golfing comparison, it was like a 6-foot putt to win the Masters, meaning it would take a steady hand and maybe a few deep breaths.
"It was a shot I make routinely in practice," said the 35-year-old Clark, a Lynnwood resident and a business analyst for an insurance company. "I didn't allow myself to think about (what happens) if I make this or if I miss this. Because if you allow yourself to think about that, you get ahead of yourself and it can change the outcome."
In the last seconds before he slid the stone down the ice, "I felt like I had a quiet mind," he said. "I knew what I needed to do. It wasn't an easy shot, but it certainly wasn't as difficult as some we face. And if you'd said to me, 'This is the shot you have to make to win,' I would've said, 'I like our chances.'"
With the poise that comes from years of national and international curling, Clark delivered a perfect stone. His throw -- which curled about 6 inches right to left -- produced a two-point swing and gave Clark and his team a one-point victory.
Clark is the captain of a team -- in curling terms, he is the skip -- that includes Tilker, 35, of Seattle, who was born in Canada and got his U.S. citizenship last year; 24-year-old Sean Beighton of Seattle, who grew up in Edmonds and is a 2007 graduate of Mukilteo's Kamiak High School; and Darren Lehto, 44, of Seattle.
They represent Seattle's Granite Curling Club, where they have competed with and against each other in recent years. Their foursome did not come together until last year, when Tilker received his U.S. citizenship.
Watching Clark's winning shot at nationals was "a pretty cool feeling," said Beighton, a corporate video producer for a mortgage company. "As soon as Brady let it go, I was at the other end of the sheet and I knew (it was good). I started celebrating. It was exciting."
The thrilling final match capped what Clark remembers as "a roller coaster" for his team at the week-long championships. They won their first five matches and seemed like a lock for the playoff round of four teams, but then lost their next four matches and were in danger of missing the playoffs altogether.
They had to win a tiebreaker just to reach the playoff round, and then two other loser-out matches to get to the title match.
But in the end, Clark said, "we're the national champions and that sounds pretty cool."
For Clark and his teammates, perhaps the biggest prize of all is a spot in next November's U.S. Olympic Trials in Fargo, N.D. By reaching the title match at the national championships, Team Clark was guaranteed a place at the Trials, where five teams will compete to represent the U.S. at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
"For me, winning the Olympic Trials is the No. 1 thing," said Tilker, a software developer. "For me that would be a dream come true because you always dream of representing your country. When I was growing up, that was Canada. And now that I live in the United States, it's no different."
"The Olympics are a great dream, and I think it's something we're all excited about," agreed Clark, who has competed at the trials for the 2002, 2006 and 2010 Games. "It's hard to tell you how exciting that really is."
But in the meantime there are the world championships, and Clark's team needs to finish in the top seven (perhaps top eight) to guarantee the U.S. a place in the 2014 Olympics. With a lower finish, the U.S. Trials champion would have to compete at a qualifier in December in the hope of gaining one of two remaining Olympic berths.
"We need to shoot for the medal stand and not worry about (qualifying for the Olympics)," Clark said. "But in the back of your mind it's something you have to be aware of. Because there's a lot of people reminding us to do well ... to make sure (the U.S. is) in the Olympics."
But despite that pressure, the world championships will be "an unbelievable experience for us in preparation for the Olympic Trials," he said. "It's the top of curling besides the Olympics ... and I want a medal."
Canada is generally at the top of international curling, and teams from Sweden, Norway and Scotland are other top contenders. Team Clark might rank seventh or eighth going into the world championships, though "every time you walk out on that ice, every team is beatable," Clark said.
"And all you can do," he added, "is make your next shot."