I’m here to tell you a bit about the curlers going for gold in Beijing today. And a bit about those chasing bronze, too.
The point is to give you added context in the hope you’ll enjoy the games to the max. And if you don’t watch, here’s hoping you’ll nod your head after reading and think … “cool.”
Almida and Oskar
The Swedes are a relatively new tandem. Oskar Eriksson plays third for Niklas Edin’s superstar men’s foursome (which starts play on Wednesday) and it turns out he’s pretty good at mixed doubles, too. He and Swedish women’s team skip Anna Hasselborg won the world mixed doubles title in 2019, but Anna’s team then decided they wanted to focus on four-player team stuff. Oskar figured, okay, perhaps I’ll do that too. Sounds pretty casual.
Then Almida de Val texted him. She plays with Hasselborg’s arch-rivals in Sweden. She bugged him, in her own words. Oskar listened. He said, “Okay.” They played a bit on tour and did well, then did very well at the 2021 worlds and defeated Canada for bronze. Still sounds pretty casual.
Their road to Tuesday’s bronze medal game in Beijing is probably the rockiest one they’ve travelled thus far, but they’ve made it … and they’re up against another new-ish pairing.
Jennifer and Bruce
Great Britain’s Jenn Dodds and Bruce Mouat were childhood friends in Scotland. Amazingly, they hadn’t curled together until fairly recently—and they won the 2021 world title, actually.
Mouat The Bruce was already an accomplished mixed doubles player and did well with previous partner Gina Aitken, but get this: if they hadn’t lost their last game at the 2017 worlds, they would have qualified for the last Olympics in PyeongChang. And if that had happened, Mouat wouldn’t have been available to play men’s curling with his current powerhouse team, which starts play on Thursday. Meaning they probably wouldn’t have formed at all.
Think about that for a second.
Now for the gold medal combatants.
Stefania and Amos
Italy has never won a medal at the adult world championships, never mind the Olympic Winter Games. Stefania Constantini and Amos Mosaner are guaranteed at least silver, following their dismantling of Sweden in their semifinal. The next Winter Games are in Stefania’s hometown of Cortina d’Ampezzo (co-hosting 2026 with Milan), where they are going bonkers over this team.
They are absolutely crushing their opponents. They’re 9-0 and going for 10. They are a smooth, oiled machine and nothing seems to get to them. When there is a rare miss, there’s an immediate pickup.
He is 26, and plays third on veteran Joel Retornaz’s men’s team, who start on Thursday against Mouat. He practices mostly with the men’s team. She is just 22 and skips the Italian women’s team (they didn’t make it to Beijing) and mostly practices with them or alone. He had to be convinced by Italian coaches to team up with Constantini; Mosaner had won the Italian mixed doubles title in 2019 with his girlfriend, who is fairly new to the sport, and he wanted to compete with her in Beijing (they went 5-2 at the worlds). Whatever the coaches said to convince Amos to team up with Stefania should be cast in bronze—perhaps gold?—and put on public display in Rome.
Violetta Caldart is the team coach in Beijing, but she’s more of a Stefania coach; the Italian program doesn’t technically have a mixed doubles coach. Claudio Pescia is Mosaner’s men’s team coach, and he has been “second coach” to Caldart on the bench in Beijing.
(A sidebar about Pescia; we’re friends. He competed in the Olympics for Switzerland at Turin 2006 but made his world debut playing for Italy in the 1990s. He enjoyed the story we wrote when his men’s team qualified for Beijing, so much so that he picked up the six-foot-six Mosaner after the Beijing semi, to loud cheering from the fans. He got a warning from the umpire—and hopefully not a sore back.)
If you’re catching my drift, your average curling fan would think this Italian thing shouldn’t work—at least not as well as it has been working this week.
Amos has been known as a talented shooter for a while now. The giant used to throw missile takeouts but has softened his game wonderfully since PyeongChang 2018. But it’s Constantini who is turning heads. An Italian headline before the Games suggested “Stefania, it’s up to you!” She has certainly delivered.
Constantini was profiled in Italy’s Vanity Fair before the Games, and also authored a lengthy missive for Eurosport’s Italian website. She wrote:
I still remember that one afternoon, during a training session, my coach asked me: “but what is your goal?” And I, without even thinking about it, replied: “the Olympics.” There I realized for the first time how much I really care. So I built myself as a person and as an athlete, piece by piece, piece by piece, with curling as my companion, fuelling my passion along the way.
My colleague Matt Sussman recently reminded us of one of those pieces. Four years ago, as an 18-year-old, she was competing with her women’s team in the last qualifying game for PyeongChang in Pilsen, Czech Republic. The opponent was Denmark’s Madeleine Dupont. Constantini was playing second, and burned not one but two stones thrown by her skip, in back-to-back ends. The Danes played it by the rules—which, unfairly or not, give the non-offending team a ton of leeway in stone placement—and Italy lost.
One can imagine how crushed the youngster was. “Everybody will remember and get experience from this, especially the younger (players),” said her disappointed skip, Diana Gaspari. “And we have to go on, we cannot do anything else.”
Now Stefania is the skip of that team, made it with Mosaner in mixed doubles, and is into the Olympic gold-medal final.
If Italy wins … I hope she doesn’t try to pick up Mosaner.
Kristin and Magnus
Imagine yourself losing the Olympic bronze medal game. With your significant other. You fly home to go back to work (you’re Norwegian in this scenario, by the way, so chances are good that you have a real job and cannot commit to curling full-time like so many of your rivals). You get an email message. One of the Olympic Athletes of Russia team members that defeated you got caught doping, they’ve been disqualified, and the International Olympic Committee wants to fly you back to the Games before they close to give you your almost-new (briefly used) bronze medal.
“The fact that we actually got to go back for a weekend trip to Korea to receive the medal … it was only us on the podium, no one else standing in the first or second place,” said Kristin Skaslien back then. “I had been back at work for three days when I got an email with plane tickets. I sent my boss a text message telling him, ‘I’ve got first-class tickets to South Korea, I’ll be back by Tuesday’. It is much better than having (the medal) sent by post months later, though I would have accepted it and picked it up in the mail box.”
Her ambition? “Winning a medal game at the Olympics. We got a bronze medal the last time without winning.”
Well … here they are.
They won silver at the 2021 worlds and looked a bit wobbly early in Beijing, but settled into a four-game win streak that clinched a playoff spot. They defeated Great Britain 6-5 in their semi.
Skaslien and hubby Magnus Nedregotten have a system for when things get heated on the ice. And they do … apparently there was much tittering back home in Norway during Pyeongchang 2018 when the player microphones picked up their, uh, “team dynamics.” They go into a room and it’s a free-for-all—everything that needs to be said (or yelled) is said (or yelled) with no repercussions. Then, when calmer heads are ready to prevail, a less passionate analysis of the game takes place.
They’ve been known to sleep in separate rooms at some tournaments and championships. “It’s to get a break from each other,” said Magnus recently. “I might want to build Lego or play Playstation, while Kristin will do other things. And then she goes to bed so late.”
There are displays of affection on the ice too, of course, even some which Magnus tries to cover up. I mean, there’s no escaping the jumbotron in the Water Cube, it’s simply enormous.
He is a fitness monster. Not only has he visually bulked up since PyeongChang, he tracks everything. Apparently, the 2021 annual totals of on-ice training were 400 hours together, 550 hours for her and 750 hours for him. At the recent European Championships in Lillehammer, he had an off-ice sweeping station set up and issued a standing challenge against all tournament competitors. I have no idea if anyone took him up on it.
They both modelled in the 2022 Curling Cares Fundraising Calendar, to raise money for Amnesty International. They posed in the shallow water of a Norwegian fjord at dusk, and men’s team skip Steffen Walstad took the photo. It is one hell of a photo. The term “beast mode” comes to mind.
There you have it. Three partnerships recently forged. One occasionally bickering married couple. Two matches left, and three Olympic medals ready to be earned.
Enjoy the show.