By Rich Myhre Herald Writer
Great athletes often have the knack for making great plays at the right moments, and so it was for curler Brady Clark.
Competing a year ago February in the men’s final of the 2013 U.S. Curling Championships in Green Bay, Wis., Clark was faced with a shot that ultimately would decide the match and the national title. It was the kind of make-or-break moment that could cause a lesser athlete to flinch, but not the 36-year-old Clark, who lives in Lynnwood.
“It was a fairly routine shot that I had to make,” he recalled. “I just tried to quiet my mind and focus on the execution of the shot, and not allow myself to worry about any outcome.”
Clark calmly delivered the stone that earned two points, turning a one-point deficit into a dramatic 6-5 victory. And at that point, he admitted, “you get chills going through your body. It’s hard to describe, but it was just an exciting opportunity.”
It was the first men’s national championship for Clark, who is The Herald’s Man of the Year in Sports for 2013.
“Winning your first national championship in any discipline is a very exciting and exhilarating experience,” said Clark, who was the skip, or captain, of a team that included Philip Tilker of Seattle, Darren Lehto of Seattle, Sean Beighton of Seattle (formerly of Edmonds), and alternate Steve Lundeen of Seattle.
“Going into nationals, I felt we were a middle-of-the-pack team,” Clark said. “Realistically, I thought we were pretty much long shots to win. But our team just played well. We got into tiebreakers to make the playoffs, we made it through the tiebreakers and then we rattled off three more wins after that.”
With the national title, Clark and his teammates earned the right to represent the United States at the 2013 World Curling Championships, which happened to be in nearby Victoria, B.C.
“To have the opportunity to advance to play at the worlds in Victoria was great,” Clark said. “We had a lot of friends and family come to support us and cheer us on, and I was very thankful for that opportunity.”
Clark grew up in North Dakota, where curling is a popular wintertime sport, and he started in the sport as a boy. He continued curling at the University of North Dakota, where he met his wife Cristin, also a curler.
The Clarks have been the dominating U.S. team in mixed curling (two men and two women) and in mixed doubles, winning a combined 12 national championships. But the men’s championship had been more elusive, with Clark coming close but ending up short many times.
Until last year, that is. But it was by no means easy, with Clark’s team having to win three straight loser-out games just to reach the championship match.
“It was gratifying to see the team step it up and play well under pressure,” Clark said. “Must-win games are always difficult, but knowing that we’d have to win four in a row was very difficult. But the team was able to battle through it and win it on that last shot.”
The world championships were less successful, but no less thrilling. Twelve teams were on hand and they all played each other in a round-robin format with the top four advancing to the playoff round. Clark’s team finished 5-6 and failed to advance.
“We had times throughout the (tournament) where we played extremely well, and then a few games where we were just not executing,” Clark said. “We were missing a few too many shots. But at a really personal level, I actually felt I had a great season and really strong performances.”
Indeed, Clark finished second statistically among the 12 skips competing at the world championships. “It was great to see that I could compete well at that level,” he said.
Certainly USA Curling noticed, naming Clark its Male Athlete of the Year for 2013.
“I’d say the past year we had a great opportunity at winning nationals, and then winning five of 11 at worlds,” he said. “We subsequently made it into the top 40 on the world curling rankings, so it was just a really good season. And now we’re looking forward to the future.”