Monday, February 10, 2014

U.S. Curlers With Minnesota Roots Are Rock Stars

It is our largest entourage ever for the Winter Olympic Games. This year we have 230 athletes with the U.S. Olympic Team. And since Minnesotans know more than their share about what winters are all about, it's only natural that some of this year's winter Olympians hail from the Land of 10,000 (Frozen) Lakes. Even our Great Lake Superior is frozen over this year, a month earlier than ever before, which is quite a testament to how unusually cold our winter has been.

So, what do Minnesotans do in the winter? There's figure skating, speed skating, skiing (bth downhill and cross-country) and snowmobiling for starters, though the latter of these is not yet an Olympic sport. There's sledding and hockey. And there's curling.

For the full slate of Duluthians now in Sochi check out the special Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics Guide in this week's Reader. Speed skater Anna Ringsred get's a big nod there as well as a long list of women's hockey players who went through our UMD program. There are others to watch as well, but this blog note aims to highlight the U.S. curlers and the four Minnesotans who are part of Team Shuster.

In his first Olympics in Torino eight years ago John Shuster and the U.S. Olympic Curling Team received worldwide accolades for attaining the Bronze Medal in competition with the world’s best. So it was that four years later expectations were even higher. Unfortunately four straight losses crushed those hopes as the team finished 2-7 in Vancouver, Shuster himself benched for a portion of those games.

But the Chisholm native is back, having boarded a plane last week on his way to Sochi along with Minnesota teammates Jeff Isaacson of Virginia, Jared Zezel of Hibbing and Lance Landsteiner of Mapleton.

Dick Wicklund, general manager of the Duluth Curling Club, is proud to be associated with these young men with big hearts and dreams. “It’s an honor, especially when you see how hard they work. Shuster himself plays in three curling leagues,” says Wicklund.

Only Jeff Isaacson was alongside Shuster in that disappointing Vancouver experience. Shuster’s current team was assembled for the 2012-13 season with strong results, and medals. Team Shuster is leaving nothing to chance and taking nothing for granted.

Shuster knows what winning feels like, having taken a gold as the lead in Pete Fenson’s curling squad that won the U.S. Men’s Curling Championship in Utica and again in 2005 at Madison. Shuster has five gold medals now including his most recent in Broomfield as skip, the captain of the team who determines the strategy.

One thing different this time around for Shuster is that he’s bringing his wife and 8-month-old son along.

Their first match is slated for today, and will continue daily till the medal ceremony February 21.

In the event you're not familiar with the terminology of curling, here's a Curling Cheat Sheet from the website Curling for Dummies. That 44-pound stone they slide is called The Rock. That's why I said in the title our boys here are "rock stars." But there are other terms worth knowing. Like what a hack is. Do you know what a gripper is? A house? A button? An eight-ender? The time to learn is now.

Enjoy the action in Sochi.

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