Sliding Toward Gold

Eau Claire teen curler headed to youth olympics in Switzerland

Tom Giffey, photos by Jeff Thompson

HE WILL, HE WILL ROCK YOU. Eau Claire curler Charlie Thompson, 17, will represent the United States at the Youth Olympic Games this winter in Switzerland.
HE WILL, HE WILL ROCK YOU. Eau Claire curler Charlie Thompson, 17, will represent the United States at the Youth Olympic Games this winter in Switzerland.

The Youth Olympic trials in October were supposed to be the last event of Charlie Thompson’s curling career. Fate – and talent – had other plans.

Thompson, a 17-year-old junior at Memorial High School, was on the gold-medal winning team at the trials, which were held in early October in Denver. Now he’s preparing to compete at the Youth Olympic Games, which will draw 1,800 teenage skiers, sledders, skaters, and other winter athletes to Lausanne, Switzerland, in January.

A third-generation curler, Thompson first got on the ice at age 3 and started competing at age 12. Even in a city like Eau Claire, which has an active curling scene, Thompson knows many of his peers don’t know much about the sport. (“You don’t turn on your TV and see Monday Night Curling,” he quips.) But that didn’t lessen his desire to compete: He’s traveled around the United States and Canada for tournaments, and was part of the U18 National Championship team in 2018. To prepare for the Youth Olympic Trials, Thompson networked with teen curlers from around the country to form a four-member team, which includes Ethan Hebert (Lowell, Massachusetts), Kaitlin Murphy (Cleveland, Ohio), and Alina Tschumakow (West Roxbury, Massachusetts).

At first, Thompson served as the team’s “skip” – the on-ice captain who determines strategy and slides the final two stones down the ice. However, Thompson came to realize that the role wasn’t right for him. He made the executive decision to move into the “second” spot for the good of the team. “That was a moment that I had to set aside my pride in a respect and step down the pecking order,” Thompson said.

The decision paid off. The team, coached by 2010 U.S. Olympian John Benton, won the Olympic trials. While Thompson had previously decided to step back from competitive curling to focus on his schoolwork – he’s in four Advanced Placement courses at the moment – now he is focused on preparing for the Youth Olympics.

“I’m grateful for it because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he says, “but it’s daunting to know that I’m going to miss about two weeks of school.”

Thompson’s preparations involve more than just spending hours sliding 44-pound granite stones more than 100 feet down the ice with pinpoint precision. Competitive curlers must also do cardio workouts to build muscular endurance, he says: “If you see some of the top curlers in the world, they look just as athletic as the top athletes in other sports.”

And now Thompson is poised to be one of those top athletes himself.