GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA—With their Thursday afternoon practice over, John Shuster and his teammates returned to the Olympic Village to watch a little hockey. The U.S. men’s curling team knows several of its counterparts on the women’s hockey team, and they were eager to see whether the Americans could break Canada’s 20-year stranglehold on the Olympic gold medal.
When the U.S. beat Canada in its favorite ice sport, it made Shuster feel like anything was possible.
Hours later, his team made the U.S. two-for-two against its northern neighbors, taking down Canada in its second-favorite ice sport to win a place in the Olympic gold-medal game. The 5-3 semifinal victory at Gangneung Curling Centre sent the Americans to Saturday’s championship game against Sweden, the first time the U.S. will play for Olympic gold in curling. The match will start at 12:35 a.m., Twin Cities time.
The upset continued a remarkable roll for Shuster, whose team was left for dead last Sunday after staggering through two losses that dropped its record to 2-4 in round-robin play. The hockey team’s breakthrough, and his own desire to improve on his ninth- and 10th-place finishes in the past two Olympics, have him eager to finish the job.
“I think I just decided that 50 years from now, when my kids are showing my grandkids video from the Olympics, I didn’t want all my videos to be me failing,’’ said Shuster, a Chisholm native. “And this is just changing things. Rewriting this thing.
“Our team has had its back against the wall plenty of times. But, come on. It’s the Olympics. Who’s going to give up? We’re just ready.’’
Before this week, Canada’s men had never lost to the U.S. at the Winter Games. The Americans have now beaten them twice in four days, compounding the country’s misery at the curling venue. Canada’s women failed to make the playoffs after a poor start, marking the first time they will finish the Olympics without a medal since curling was added in 1998.
The men had won the past three Olympic gold medals and had never earned less than silver. Friday, they will play for bronze.
With a loud crowd of countrymen at the arena Thursday—hooting, hollering and holding signs with slogans such as “I Swept With Your Wife’’—skip Kevin Koe and his team were tight from the start. They were continually wiping sweat from their faces, grimacing and shaking their heads. Shuster’s team blew kisses and mugged for the cameras.
Shuster couldn’t explain why his foursome’s trajectory changed in such sudden, sharp fashion, with a win streak now at four games. But the skip has found his touch, shooting 91 percent Thursday. As he made difficult shots, Koe faltered on simpler ones, and a series of mistakes in the eighth end—which finished with a draw for one point that did not make it to the house—doomed Canada's chances.
“We come from a rich history of curling where we won everything,’’ Canadian vice-skip Marc Kennedy said. ‘’That’s not the way it is anymore. This is the new normal for Canada, and people need to get used to that.’’
Shuster and his teammates, Tyler George and John Landsteiner of Duluth and Matt Hamilton of McFarland, Wis., will bring the U.S. a second Olympic medal in curling. Its first came in 2006, when Shuster played at the Turin Games with a team skipped by Pete Fenson of Bemidji.
All that’s left is to determine which color it will be.
“I don’t know that we’ve ever played a better game than we did today,’’ George said. “The guys, one through four, played the game of their lives when it mattered the most. That’s what you dream about doing. I think it’s a life-altering game for us, to do what we did on this stage today.’’