By SCOTT CACCIOLA
GANGNEUNG, South Korea – John Shuster, the face of U.S. curling for the past four Winter Olympics, had a gold medal draped around his neck for the first time in his life Saturday. Moments before, he and his teammates had done what jubilant curlers do, raised their brooms aloft in screaming excitement over an improbable victory. Yet at that moment it was hard to believe how close his dream here had come to crumbling apart.
Last Sunday, after a loss to Norway, the Americans were on the brink of elimination, again.
After the game, he found a grassy spot outside the venue, sat down and came to a realization.
“This is silly,” he told himself. “I’m getting my heart broken, I feel like, by this sport – and this is silly. Seriously, this is the Olympics.”
He slept soundly that night for the first time in a long time. His team did not lose again.
Five consecutive victories culminated Saturday in something that has never happened before: an Olympic gold for the U.S. curlers when they defeated Sweden, 10-7, before a flag-waving throng from back home. Shuster and his four teammates – Tyler George, Matt Hamilton, John Landsteiner and Joe Polo, who served as the team’s alternate – defeated Sweden, the top-ranked team in the world, so soundly it conceded the match with one full end, or period, still left to play.
The United States had never won a gold medal in the sport. Its victory was as decisive as it was unexpected – to everyone, perhaps, but the Americans themselves.
“This,” George said, “is a team that never gives up.”
The win came with its share of thrills.
On Saturday, Shuster cleared two Swedish stones with his final rock of the eighth end to score 5 points. Shuster had executed a perfect shot: a blend of cool-handed finesse and foolproof strategy.
His team’s lead was suddenly insurmountable.
“We knew we were going to lose,” Niklas Edin of Sweden said.