Fenson, Polo join new teams at trials

BROOMFIELD, Colo. -- Pete Fenson and Joe Polo were free agents, available to any curling team in need of swift sweeping and stellar stone throwing.

Fenson and Polo, part of the bronze medal-winning squad at the 2006 Olympics, went loose when their crew, Team Fenson, failed to qualify for the U.S. Olympic curling trials this week.

So Fenson joined Team Romaniuk on an interim basis as an alternate, lending his expertise more as a coach than player.

And Polo went to Team Farbelow, serving as a second (think pitcher who's an eighth-inning specialist).

Now, both have a chance to return to the Olympics.

"It didn't take me long to decide it was a good idea," said Fenson, who owns a pair of pizza parlors near his hometown of Bemidji, Minn.

Just a month ago, Fenson and Polo thought their seasons were finished, a chance to represent the U.S. at the 2010 Vancouver Games all but melted away.

Then, their phones started ringing.

Offers to fill in on rival teams arrived, allowed by the rules as long as teams don't already have a fifth member.

How could they resist the temptation to try to qualify for another Olympics?

Turns out, they couldn't.

But breaking apart, even just for the trials, was a difficult decision.

"I'd like to be here with my regular team. But it's nice to be wanted," said Polo, whose squad, along with that of Fenson, is currently in a five-team logjam for third place with three rounds left in pool play.

Team Fenson captured a nation's notice with their performance at the Turin Olympics, winning America's first-ever medal in curling.

Fenson, Polo, Shawn Rojeski and John Shuster -- now captain of Team Shuster here at the trials -- were curling curiosities, masters of a sport set on ice that combines elements of chess, bowling and shuffleboard.

They received a ton of attention for their accomplishments.

"Unbelievable," Fenson said of the exposure. "Television does crazy things for people."

Like get Polo spotted in Fort Myers, Fla., which isn't exactly a hot bed for curling.

Polo was taking a vacation there last spring, relaxing by the beach, when a person approached him. They recognized him from somewhere, asking him if he was a celebrity.

Try curler.

"I told them that and they were like, 'That's why you look so familiar,'" said Polo, who lives in Duluth, Minn. "Just to be back here, playing in the Olympic trials again, having a chance to go back, it's wonderful."

Fenson is used to being a captain. He's good at what he does, a five-time U.S. national champion.

Yet this coaching role appeals to him. It's something different.

Fenson was told when he joined Team Romaniuk there wouldn't be many chances to roll the rock for the squad. They had a full crew of Greg Romaniuk, Doug Pottinger, Leon Romaniuk and Troy Schroeder, all solid stone throwers.

They wanted Fenson around for his knowledge and to lean on for advice.

"It sounded like a good opportunity," Fenson said. "I thought it would be a new way for me to experience the playoffs and thought possibly I could help them out a little bit. I offer some insight on how to play the game, how to handle situations -- just another pair of eyes."

Polo was added to Team Farbelow fully knowing he'd have a spot on the ice, turning down several offers from teams wanting him simply to be an alternate.

Before agreeing, though, Polo asked to speak with each member of the team, just to make sure there wouldn't be any animosity.

Not a problem.

"We're having a lot of fun playing," Polo said.

On Monday night, Polo's squad ran up against the one Fenson assists, the two teammates turned temporary combatants bantering back and forth during the entire match.

So much for any awkwardness.

Then again, it was at Fenson's insistence that Polo even considered another team's offer.

"Joe was like, 'What do you think, Skipper?' I was like, 'Play man, play,'" Fenson said. "He's playing well and their team is playing well, too."

Behind Fenson's coaching tips, Team Romaniuk has turned in a solid performance as well.

Fenson and Polo have been a couple of solid free agent pickups.

Bronze medalists usually are.