SOCHI, RUSSIA – John Shuster was late arriving for his postgame media session Monday night because someone had accidentally misplaced his credential.
He eventually found it, but that misstep pretty much summed up the night for Shuster and his rink — curling’s term for team — in their opening game of the competition at the Sochi Olympics.
The Americans just looked off their game, though Shuster, the maligned skip of the 2010 Vancouver Games, attempted to put a cheery spin on a 7-4 loss to Norway at the Ice Cube Curling Center. His team also lost 9-4 to China in its seocnd match on Tuesday.
“The guys threw the rock great,” he said after the Norway loss. “I thought I was throwing the rock fine. We just weren’t getting the results.”
Shuster understandably tried to accentuate the positives in defeat given the hellish nightmare he endured in Vancouver four years ago. Shuster’s rink went 2-7 and finished in 10th place and the skip caught the full brunt of criticism from the curling community.
Fans accused Shuster of choking, and worse. The Duluth native told the Star Tribune recently that those verbal darts stung him to the degree that he required some “soul-searching.”
That heartache serves as an intriguing backdrop for his second chance in these Olympics. The first glimpse Monday didn’t exactly calm any lingering uncertainty about how he would fare as skip this time.
Shuster never seemed to settle into the game or find the right answer for Norway’s moves, an assessment even his own team members found true.
“We’ve got to get him a little more confident out there,” vice skip Jeff Isaacson said. “I don’t think he had his best game. But we’ll just try and calm everyone down and try and get on the same page.”
John Landsteiner, who threw first in the U.S. rink, was asked if Shuster might have felt extra weight on his shoulders because of what happened in Vancouver.
“I don’t think Vancouver has anything to do with it,” he said. “It’s just one of those days.”
Shuster shies away from talk of redemption and his desire to make amends for his poor showing in Vancouver. Can’t blame him. Why relive those memories? He dodged that topic again after his first loss.
“Seriously, my mind-set is great because I have a great team,” he said. “I couldn’t be happier with the way they threw the rock.”
In fairness, Norway fields one of the best curling rinks in the world and arrived here as a legitimate medal contender after taking silver in Vancouver. The Norwegians became fan favorites four years ago because of their choice of dress attire.
Put it this way: They’re not difficult to pick out of a lineup. Or even from outer space. They wear bright, colorful checkerboard golf pants that are equal parts goofy and charming. Their pants even have their own Facebook page, which, as of Monday night, had 545,600 likes.
“We don’t exactly go under the radar,” Norway skip Thomas Ulsrud said. “We stick out in the crowd, so if you get a big, terrible loss in the first game, that’s probably going to be the talk of the Norwegian press. It puts an extra bit of pressure on ourselves, but we need that, so it’s good.”
These guys bring more than just flashy pants to the party. They’ve medaled in three of the past four Olympics Games, including gold in Salt Lake City in 2002. They’ll be tough to beat here, too.
The Norwegians won their opener because they’re a better team than Shuster’s rink, and they played that way. Norway jumped to a 5-1 lead early and the outcome never really felt in doubt after that.
“Everybody vents in their own ways after losses because no one enjoys losing,” Shuster said. “I just try and let the guys cope with what they need to cope with.”
As for Shuster, he didn’t sound overly alarmed. It’s a long tournament, he noted. That’s true, but the skip sure could use a win right now.
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org