U freshman curls her way to world title

by Aaron Blake

Freshman Katie Beck might appear like any other 19-year old University of Minnesota student when you see her on the street.

It’s when Beck puts on the gold medal she won as a member of the United States’ World Junior Curling Championship team that you realize she’s different.

After winning the Junior National Championships in Harltland, Wis., Beck and her team – consisting of three Minnesotans and a Portage, Wis., native – represented their country in Kelowna, British Columbia.

Beck’s team defeated nine others to capture the gold and become the first U.S. curling team to win the women’s World Junior Championships.

“As an athlete, she’s really dedicated,” coach Jim Dexter said. “She’s one of the best female curlers in the country regardless of age.”

The team of skip Cassie Johnson, vice Jamie Johnson, second Beck, and lead Maureen Brunt made the semifinals and defeated Canada and Sweden to earn the title of world champions.

“Playing Canada in the semifinals was the big game,” Beck said. “We were in Canada and they were the world champions last year Ö Sweden was also world champions in 2000 so beating them both was a huge upset.

“It was our first year together as a team and our first year at Worlds. Both Canada’s and Sweden’s teams have been there before.”

Beck joined the world championship combination after the Johnsons’ team split. Attending the University of Minnesota meant Beck was close to the St. Paul Curling Club and closer to the Johnsons (from Bemidji) and Brunt (Portage, Wis.).

Hailing from Omaha, Neb., Beck got her start at curling when her parents picked it up from their friends.

“At our curling club there was only two sheets,” Beck said. “It was in the cow barns basically. The stables they had in the summer were changed into curling sheets during the winter.”

When the club shut down, Beck decided to get away from home and came to Minnesota. What the move eventually led to is a far cry from the obscurity of curling in Omaha.

The match against Canada attracted more than 1,000 fans, demonstrating how the sport of curling is no longer just a recreational pastime.

The sport gained increased publicity and airtime during the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City as Bemidji’s Kari Erickson led the U.S. team to the semifinals but failed to medal.

“People are coming to realize it is a sport,” Beck said. “Yeah, you’ve got to take the jokes. I had the same feeling when I first saw it. I was like, ‘What is this?'”

As she would later find out, curling is a very strategic sport. Combining the specialized roles of the skip, vice, second, and lead often takes team chemistry developed over time.

This leads to many teams composed of family members such as the Johnsons and the Olympic team with Erickson, sister Stacey Liapis, and father Mike Liapis as coach.

As the sport continues to grow, Beck will keep aiming for the next plateau. With Jamie Johnson having aged out of the junior level, her team will likely follow her into women’s competition. Cassie and Jamie placed third in the Salt Lake City trials.

“We’re going to stick together and hopefully try for the Olympics in Italy in 2006,” Beck said. “That’s our next major goal.”

And all of this comes from a University of Minnesota student who got her start by throwing 42-pound stones in an Omaha barn.


Aaron Blake welcomes comments at [email protected]