Lessons learned from US curling gold
It was 1:30 when my alarm clock went off Saturday morning. I wasn’t getting up for a trip to the airport or even the hospital, but rather for the ultimate date with my favorite Winter Olympic sport.
For years (every four years to be exact) I’ve watched this relatively obscure event during the Olympics, because that’s really the only time we have the opportunity. But I’ve been fascinated by the uniqueness of the four-man sport: the brooms, the stones and the strategy of this appropriately described “chess on ice.”
During past Olympics I’d watch mainly for the spectacle, enjoying Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, Great Britain battle for medals, as the US was not usually in contention, having won just one medal — a bronze in 2006. We were dead last in 2010 and next-to-last in 2014.
So when Team USA rallied from a dismal start in pool play to defeat three-time defending gold medalists, Canada — twice — to advance to the gold medal final, I knew I had to watch it live. I assumed that we’d lose to Sweden, the world’s top-ranked team, comprised of all professional curlers, but I’d be content with seeing a history-making silver medal performance.
But John Shuster’s team was not content to settle. Having decided before their pool-play match-up against Canada that they had nothing to lose so they might as well have fun, the Americans started to loosen up and actually even smile as they played: throwing, sweeping, yelling and strategizing. And as they started to enjoy the experience, releasing themselves from the pressure of the situation, the coolest thing started to happen… they started to score more points… rack up more wins… and ultimately put together an amazing five-point end against Sweden to capture Team USA’s first Olympic gold in curling.
Back in Duluth, Minnesota, John Shuster’s home club erupted in celebration, just as the American section, including their fellow Olympic athletes, celebrated in the PyeongChang stands. For the US skip, it was a story of redemption.
Speculation began immediately about what this phenomenal accomplishment could mean to the future of the sport of curling in the United States. I hope it becomes more popular, and earns more media coverage and broadcast time, so we won’t have to wait another four years to enjoy a tournament like the one we’ve witnessed over the last couple of weeks.
In the more immediate future these unlikely Olympic heroes will probably be given parades and visit late-night talk shows. They look like regular guys, and they’ll soon have to go back to their day-jobs, but they came home from South Korea with the ultimate in souvenirs.
Maybe even more importantly, they gave themselves the gift of no regrets, knowing they did their very best, under the most difficult of circumstances. By giving themselves permission to enjoy the ride, they ended up in the most amazing of places: atop the medal stand and in the history books.
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at email@example.com. Her column appears on Tuesdays.