I have a confession to make. When Team Shuster won the USA Men’s Olympic Trials, I was not enthusiastic … like, at all. After suffering through the 2010 Vancouver games and the 2014 Sochi games, I just wasn’t in the mood to be “Shustered” again.
But Shuster’s rink won the trials, so I tried focusing my attention on other things. Nina Roth’s squad won the USA Women’s Olympic Trials, so I could cheer for them. The Hamilton siblings seemed like a spunky pair, so I could cheer for them in Mixed Doubles. And because ESPN3 has been broadcasting Curling Canada’s Season of Champions events for the last several years, I have grown very familiar with Team Koe, Team Homan, and the Lawes/Morris duo. Surely, our neighbors to the north could be counted on to deliver some hardware.
After dropping their opener, Lawes and Morris ripped through the Mixed Doubles field, and won what many thought would be the first Canadian Gold Medal in curling with more to come. And on the men’s side, Team Koe started out hot, going 4-0 in round robin play. After tough losses to Sweden and Switzerland, Canada was still 4-2 with a date against Team Shuster’s American squad that was sitting at 2-4 in the standings.
Prior to the game, my friend Mike asked me if I was excited about the upcoming USA-Canada game.
“Excited? I’m not even going to watch it,” I replied.
“Why not?” he asked.
“It starts at 11:05 pm our time. I’m not going to stay up until 2:00 am to watch us get our butts kicked by Canada,” I said.
“Oh, come on, we could win.”
“Of course we have a shot. That’s why they play the games,” said Mike.
“That’s normally true,” I said. “Just not in this case.”
Well, you can imagine my shock when I woke up the next day and went online to check the results. The USA defeated Canada 9-7, dealing Canada their third straight loss.
Now, that 3-game losing streak was not the only 3-game losing streak for a Canadian curling team in this Olympics. Rachel Homan’s vaunted crew started round robin play 0-3 on the women’s side. This was inexplicable. But after they recorded wins against the USA, Switzerland, and Japan to reach .500, I thought, “OK, joke time is over. They got this.”
But then they lost to China and Great Britain, eliminating themselves from contention. After the loss to Great Britain, the CBC’s Colleen Jones interviewed Rachel Homan. The questions were unpleasant, and Canadian Twitter users made clear their ire toward Jones. And while Homan probably wanted to rip the microphone out of Jones’ hand and beat her over the head with it, she remained calm and cool, and answered the questions in a professional manner. All of this taking place in the midst of what had to have been the most traumatic portion of her curling life.
Honestly, I was heartbroken for the Canadian women. Because so many of their games are televised, it’s easy to become a fan of this Ottawa-based quartet. And when they won the Roar of the Rings, the Canadian Curling Olympic Trials, I was excited about the chance to see them play in the world’s biggest bonspiel. But it just wasn’t meant to be.
Back to the men’s side. After the USA brought their record to 3-4, I was convinced that Shuster was just toying with me. He was saving his worst, I thought, for later – when he would give me one last Shustering. Oh sure, he was giving me hope. After all, he had just beaten Canada. But was it false hope?
The USA’s next game was against the De Cruz rink from Switzerland. This Swiss team is unique because their skip, Peter De Cruz, doesn’t throw last stones. Benoit Schwarz does that. Now, I’ve only seen a few of Team De Cruz’s games, but I knew they were very good. And it seemed like every time I watched Schwarz play, he was on fire.
While Schwarz made some quality shots all Olympics long, the USA was able to win 8-4 over the Swiss, improving their record to 4-4.
“OK,” I thought. “We’re playing .500 ball. Now is when we get the Great Grandmother of all Shusterings!”
Well, not only did we not get Shustered, the USA beat Great Britain 10-4 and solidified a date with Canada in the semifinals.
Could we really beat the Canadians twice in one Olympics? As it turns out, the answer is yes. The USA won 5-3, ensuring themselves either a gold or silver medal.
At that point, I had forgiven Shuster. The sins were absolved, the demons were exorcised. Even if they lost 80-0 to Sweden in the Gold Medal final, he had brought the USA back from the dead, and assured us the best result in USA Curling history (the Bronze Medal won by the men in the 2006 Torino games was the only medal we had won up to that point – Shuster played lead on that team). I was – officially – a John Shuster Fan! Not a critic … a Fan! And it felt Great!
The Gold Medal Final was awesome. For seven ends, it was a heavyweight title fight. And then, Sweden’s skip Niklas Edin made an error with his last stone of the eighth end, giving Shuster a relatively simple double takeout for five. At that point, for four-plus games, Shuster had been in a zone. Like, a “win the game all by yourself” zone. A “make every shot” zone. It was just awesome to watch. And as an American curling fan who has been critical of John in the past, it felt good to see him play like that on the world stage.
And then it happened. Shuster made the double takeout for five, and the USA had an insurmountable 10-5 lead after eight ends. Sweden scored two in the ninth, and was run out of rocks in the tenth. The USA Men’s Curling Team had won the Olympic Gold Medal.
It was awesome. It was crazy. It was after 3am my time and I was completely wired. Couldn’t sleep. And sooooo happy! As other friends of mine learned of the triumph, or even watched the replay a few hours later, it was so awesome to see people excited about curling.
Now, I’m not under any delusions. Monday Night Curling is not going to outdraw Monday Night Football in the ratings any time soon. And that’s fine. And yes, I’m going to continually hear goofy comments from people who have no idea what it’s like to sweep 60 stones over ten ends asking, “Why did that curler have to dope to play curling? I mean, come on. It’s curling!!”
Damn you, Alexander Krushelnitskiy!
But it doesn’t matter. At least they’re talking about curling.
And while the USA men’s storyline was awesome, there were other good ones as well. That South Korean women’s team was incredible to watch. OK, they didn’t beat Anna Hasselborg’s Swedish rink in the Gold Medal Finals, but who cares? The host country was buzzing every time Team EunJung Kim took to the ice.
Also, I wasn’t the biggest fan of mixed doubles curling going into the Olympics. Frankly, I preferred the traditional four-person game. And while I still prefer the four-person game, I’m a much bigger fan of mixed doubles now. I can thank the Hamilton siblings – Becca and Matt – for that!
Matt Hamilton (who not only played mixed doubles with his sister, but also threw second stones for Team Shuster) specifically, and Team Shuster generally, displayed a social media savvy that was fun and refreshing all Olympics long. If you could have a beer with any athlete from any country, who would you pick? It would be Matt Hamilton. The guy genuinely enjoys what he’s doing. He never gets down. He’s always positive and he doesn’t take himself too seriously.
I’m going to miss these Olympics. It delivered everything I could have asked for, and then some.
And I can’t wait for the 2022 Beijing Games!