OMAHA – John Shuster wasn't about to let COVID-19 derail his chances at making a fifth U.S. Olympic team. About six weeks before the Olympic curling trials, he moved into a garage apartment at his parents' home in Chisholm, isolating himself to make sure he wasn't sidelined by a positive test or infection.
It was a sacrifice, Shuster said, to be away from his wife and two sons and leave his home in Superior, Wis. Sunday, he made sure it was worth the effort. Shuster's team defeated Team Korey Dropkin 5-4 in the deciding game of the Olympic trials at Baxter Arena, giving the Chisholm native the opportunity to defend the historic gold medal he won at the 2018 Winter Games.
Shuster will represent the U.S. in curling at a fifth consecutive Olympics. He won bronze in 2006 as part of Pete Fenson's team and will return for a fourth time as skip of his own foursome. The team he will take to the Beijing Games in February includes two 2018 teammates, John Landsteiner of Duluth and Matt Hamilton of McFarland, Wis., and Chris Plys of Duluth, who was part of Shuster's 2010 Olympic team.
In 2018, Team Shuster became the first Americans to win Olympic gold in the sport with an extraordinary comeback. At the trials, it rallied again, finding its best form after losing the first game of the best-of-three finals.
"When your back is against the wall, that's where your character really shows," Shuster said. "Everybody on our team, we're all fighters.
"It's going to be special to get a chance to go back [to the Olympics] and see what we can do, see if we can't get another gold."
Team Shuster lost Friday's finals opener 8-4, then bounced back with a 7-3 victory Saturday. The first half of Sunday's match featured exceptional shooting from both teams as they fought to a 1-1 draw at the midpoint.
Shuster scored two in the sixth end and got a steal in the seventh, stretching his lead to 4-1 when Dropkin missed a draw for one on his final shot. Dropkin made another critical error in the eighth end. He again had the last shot and a chance to score one, but the stone did not travel far enough, leaving Shuster's rock closest to the button for another steal and a 5-1 advantage Dropkin could not overcome.
"They're great shot makers," Dropkin said of Team Shuster. "They're really good at putting the pressure on, especially when they need to. And when we had opportunities to capitalize, we didn't always execute."
Team Shuster will join Team Tabitha Peterson, which swept the women's finals, in Beijing. Team Peterson defeated Team Cory Christensen 11-4 Saturday in Game 2, after an 8-7 victory in Game 1 on Friday.
Peterson and her sister Tara are from Eagan, and team alternate Aileen Geving is from Duluth. The other two members, Nina Roth and Becca Hamilton, are from McFarland, Wis. All but Tara Peterson competed at the 2018 Olympics, with Roth as skip.
Tabitha Peterson took over as skip after Roth had a baby in 2019. The team thrived in its new configuration, so she stayed in that role when Roth returned. Team Peterson finished the Olympic trials with an 11-1 record, winning its last 10 games.
The trials triumph continued a stellar year. In May, Team Peterson earned bronze at the world championships, the first world championships medal for the U.S. women in 15 years.
"We're definitely grooving," Peterson said. "We've put a lot of work in, and we're seeing the reaps of all our hard work right now."
Shuster could relate. After being away from his family — and after a finals series that tested his team — he was especially grateful.
"The sacrifices all of our families have made, to make it where we could get here and perform, I feel like it was the biggest team effort I've ever been involved in," he said. "Not just with these guys, but all the people around us."