For five-time Olympic curler John Shuster, his reality still feels like a dream
The first match for Team USA will be Wednesday at 6:05 a.m. CT against the Russian Olympic Committee.
With a single throw of the stone at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, John Shuster forever etched his name in Team USA lore. That particular shot — a double takeout, as they call it in curling — helped the U.S. captured its first Olympic gold medal in the sport.
As he stood atop the podium with the gold medal dangling from his neck, Shuster, a native of Chisholm, Minn., instantaneously ascended to celebrity status that took him beyond his world of curling.
“That first year after the Olympics we had a lot of really fun opportunities,” he said. “There were pinch-yourself moments pretty much that entire first year. We had the Minnesota sports teams really embrace us. That was an incredible amount of fun.”
It was a far cry from when his last name was synonymous with failure because of his repeated struggles on the grandest stage. He literally had become a verb — “Shustering” — for all the wrong reasons.
“There was probably six months of doubt in there total,” admitted Shuster, now a five-time Olympian who will lead the American team of John Landsteiner, Matt Hamilton and Chris Plys at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, beginning competition on Wednesday. “It wasn’t necessarily six straight months.”
Nonetheless, those moments consumed Shuster whenever they arose, making him question whether he wanted to continue participating in the sport.
“It was like, ‘OK, is this really worth it for me personally?’ ” Shuster said. “Honestly, I wasn’t sure.”
After bursting onto the scene at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, winning a bronze medal as the lead for Pete Fenson’s team, Shuster’s fall from glory has been well-documented over the years.
He formed his own team ahead of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, taking over as the skip, and came in last place in what he says was possibly the most disappointing performance of his career. His team bounced back and qualified for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi only to struggle once again.
As doubt crept in, Shuster tried to remind himself that this was his calling. He believes he was meant to be a curler, and while there were times when that certainly didn’t feel like it, that mentality has carried throughout his career.
It explains why he created his own team after the United States Curling Association shunned him.
Instead of calling it career at that point, Shuster defiantly teamed up with Landsteiner, Hamilton and the now-retired Tyler George, forming a group they affectionately referred to as “The Rejects” in competition. That team, of course, ended up winning Olympic gold in 2018.
Is there more or less pressure for Team Shuster now that it has to defend a gold medal in Beijing? The first match for Team USA will be Wednesday at 6:05 a.m. CT against the Russian Olympic Committee.
“It’s way less pressure,” Shuster said with a confident laugh. “Honestly, for me, and I think for my teammates, as well, we don’t have to win to validate anything anymore. That’s going to allow us to go out on the ice and just enjoy the experience.”
It might even help them perform at a higher level than ever before. The results speak for themselves over the past few years as Team Shuster has won both national championships in which it has competed.
No matter what happens over the next couple of weeks, Shuster already experienced the honor of a lifetime last week, serving as a flag bearer for the U.S. during the Opening Ceremony. He is the first curler to be selected for such an honor.
On top of being able to carry the flag, Shuster was also grateful to be able to share the Opening Ceremony with three fellow five-time Olympians — Shaun White (snowboarding), Lindsey Jacob Ellis (snowboarding) and Katie Uhlaender (skeleton). They walked in their first Opening Ceremony together at the 2006 Olympics in Torino.
“All of the athletes in our country put in an incredible amount of work,” Shuster said. “To be able to represent us five times is an honor. Sometimes I don’t think I can even comprehend it.”