DAVID GREENE, HOST:
At the Olympics in Sochi, a dismal outcome for America's curling teams. This is a sport where players glide down the ice, using what looks like brooms to try and move a rock. The U.S. women's team finished in last place yesterday, after losing to South Korea. The U.S. men's team didn't do much better, finishing next to last. Both teams are self-formed. Both teams have players squeezing their curling time in with full-time jobs. With a poor showing for a second straight winter games, some are wondering if the sport needs to be revamped in the United States. And recently, there's been an effort to bring younger athletes into the game. Youth Radio's Sophie Varon went out to meet this new generation.
SOPHIE VARON, BYLINE: Curling is one of the slowest and safest of the Olympic sports. You can do it until you're 80. In fact, the oldest American to ever participate in the Winter Olympics was a curler. So why is a world-famous curler recruiting teenagers?
CAROLYN DARBYSHIRE: The people that you don't really see on the ice right at the moment, we're all getting to the point where we are retiring.
VARON: That's Carolyn Darbyshire, known in the world of curling as the Manitoba Tuck.
DARBYSHIRE: It's time for us to step down and let the younger generation come out and show their true colors.
VARON: Darbyshire could curl for decades more, as long as she can slide a heavy rock down a sheet of ice while her friends scrub in front of it to make the ice nice and slippery. But she does recognize this sport can require a certain youthful energy.
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VARON: Here's Darbyshire curling for Team Canada during a crucial moment at the 2010 Olympics. You can find it on the Olympics website.
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VARON: After all that, they took home the silver, which Carolyn had brought with her tonight. To be honest, her medal has seen better days.
DARBYSHIRE: Kids have dropped it on the floor and everything. It's just like, OK, well, whatever.
VARON: Darbyshire travels with her silver medal all over North America, preaching the gospel of curling. One place that hears the message loud and clear is the Portage Curling Club in rural Wisconsin. Written on the side of the building is the claim: Home of Olympic Dreams. One of those hopefuls is 17-year-old Lani Dubberstein.
LANI DUBBERSTEIN: We all heard that there's a, Olympian from Portage. Like, what? That's crazy. It got a lot of people into it.
VARON: Even in Wisconsin, a state with the most curlers in the nation, curling is still not the most respected sport.
DUBBERSTEIN: That's, like, a thing in high school where people are, like, curling's not a sport. You don't sweat. You don't run. I mean, but you kind of do run. Like, it's in a 100-meter sheet, and people throw it down in, like, six seconds.
VARON: Lani Dubberstein is a nationally ranked curler who got the whole family into curler.
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VARON: Including her younger sister, Anne.
DUBBERSTEIN: You need a lot of flexibility and balance.
VARON: Anne's noticed the sport catching on.
ANNE DUBBERSTEIN: New clubs are popping up all over the place. Like, one popped up in Hawaii. You wouldn't think that they'd build an ice arena there, but there's a lot of pictures of, like, these Hawaiian kids curling. It's really cool to see.
VARON: It's true. According to the National Curling Association, the amount of registered curlers has increased 60 percent since 2002, and over half of their clubs have programs designed for junior curlers. While I was reporting this story, a curling club popped up at my very own high school in Berkeley, California. The club president, 16-year-old Breonna Johnson, is looking for other kids to step onto the ice.
BREONNA JOHNSON: I hope we make a team, because it'd be more fun if we had more people to just go to the ice rink and have games all day. It'd be really fun.
VARON: So, for you passionate, young curlers, slide your stones and push your brooms, because who knows if it will be one of you to be the first to bring home the gold for Team USA. Maybe we'll see you at the next Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. For NPR News, I'm Sophie Varon.
GREENE: Sophie's story was produced by Youth Radio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.