John Shuster

U.S. men’s curlers face long road to Olympics

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The winner of the U.S. Olympic Trials in men’s curling next week is not guaranteed to go to Sochi.

Five rinks (or teams) will compete in Fargo, N.D., beginning Sunday. The winner after a best-of-three championship series next weekend will head to Füssen, Germany, for what’s called the Olympic Qualification Event from Dec. 10-15.

Ten nations make up the Olympic curling field. The host nation, Russia, is automatically in. The top seven nations combining results from the last two World Championships also qualified.

The U.S. was eighth in those standings and therefore placed in the Olympic Qualification Event with seven other nations. The top two from the Olympic Qualification Event will earn the final spots at the Sochi Olympics.

The U.S. is favored to take one of those two spots given it’s the highest-ranked nation in the Olympic Qualification Event field (eighth) and has qualified into every Olympic curling tournament since the sport returned to the Games in 1998.

Curling can be unpredictable, but if one rink must be picked as the Olympic Trials favorite it ought to be the reigning U.S. champion. That would be a rink skipped by Brady Clark, a business analyst from Washington state.

The competition includes a rink skipped by Pete Fenson, who skipped the U.S. to its only Olympic curling medal, bronze in 2006.

Perhaps the best story of the Olympic Trials will be one of Fenson’s Torino teammates, John Shuster. The Minnesota bartender was the skip of the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team that finished in last place in Vancouver.

He was the surprise winner of the 2010 U.S. Olympic Trials, held one year before the Olympics in (where else?) Broomfield, Colo. “Shoostie,” who taped over a Titleist logo on his hat at the streamed Trials, went on “The Tonight Show” and became the American face of the cult-followed sport going into the Games.

But Shuster struggled in Vancouver and was benched after an 0-4 start. The uncommon group of once-every-four-years curling followers vented. His Wikipedia page was hacked.

Shuster didn’t tweet the rest of the Games but took the criticism in stride and regained his spot in the lineup.

“We had a lot of laughs about it,” he told USA Today.

NBCSN will televise the best-of-three championship series beginning Friday.

U.S. women’s curler eyes Olympic return 26 years after debut

U.S. Figure Skating Championships pairs preview

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 02: Tarah Kayne and Daniel O'Shea of the United States react after completing their routine in the Pairs Free Skate on Day 6 of the ISU World Figure Skating Championships 2016 at TD Garden on April 2, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The U.S. pairs field opened up when Alexa Scimeca and Christopher Knierim, the top American team internationally in recent seasons, pulled out of the national championships due to Scimeca’s September stomach surgery that kept them out all fall.

“Without Scimeca and Knierim, I don’t think the United States has a team that can challenge for the top six, or some moments, even the top 10 in the world,” NBC Olympics analyst Johnny Weir said. “Scimeca and Knierim are, far and away, the best team in the United States.”

The remaining field this week is led by Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea, who upset Scimeca and Knierim for last year’s national title.

Kayne and O’Shea followed that up with the exact same finishes in the fall Grand Prix series as a year ago, opening up a question of whether they can repeat in Kansas City. Kayne’s knee injury hasn’t helped matters.

Enter Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, who missed all of last season due to Denney’s knee surgery. They were looking strong until their most recent lower-level event in December, where they were fourth and finished behind another American pair, Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc.

Regardless of the two pairs that advance from the U.S. championships to the world championships in two months, it’s clear the U.S. is still lacking consistency in its weakest of the four disciplines.

None of the contending pairs after Kayne and O’Shea and Denney and Frazier have spent two full season together.

“Breakups, makeups, partner changes, coaching changes,” Weir said. “There’s a very high divorce rate within the pairs community of the United States compared to the rest of the world, where teams stick it out through thick and thin. As soon as the going gets tough for the U.S. pairs, they break up.”

Thursday
Pairs short program — 5:30-7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Saturday
Pairs free skate; free dance — 3-6 p.m. ET, NBC

MORE: U.S. Championships broadcast schedule

Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea
Ages: 23/25
Hometown: Ellenton, Fla.
2016 U.S. champions
13th at 2016 World Championships

Kayne and O’Shea fell to the No. 2 U.S. pair at last year’s worlds, behind Scimeca and Knierim, who were ninth. In the fall, they had the third-best total score among U.S. pairs, nearly 20 points behind Denney and Frazier.

Johnny Weir’s Take: They haven’t had the most successful international season. They are coming in as defending national champions, which is a huge amount of pressure.

Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier
Ages: 21/24
Hometown: Canton, Mich.
2015 U.S. silver medalists
2014, 2016 Skate America silver medalists

Denney and Frazier came back after a full season off and repeated their best senior international result, a second place at Skate America in October. Their total was a full 16 points better than the next-best U.S pair this season. Denney and Frazier were 2013 World junior champions but hope to better their only senior worlds finish, 12th in 2015.

Tara Lipinski’s Take: Obviously, in American pairs, we haven’t been the strongest in the world. But if you’re going to look at who’s holding us up right now, it’s Denney and Frazier.

Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran
Ages: 26/26
Hometown: Montreal
2016 U.S. bronze medalists
Castelli: 2013, 2014 U.S. champion with Simon Shnapir

Castelli, a 2014 Olympian and team event bronze medalist with Shnapir, paired with Tran two years ago, but their first full season wasn’t until 2015-16. They finished sixth at the 2015 U.S. Championships and earned bronze last year, just missing the two-pair world championships team.

Tara Lipinski’s Take: Last year, I was so excited when they were such a new pair. So much to learn and getting to know each other. Marissa, looking back at her Olympic experience, I think she’s such a firecracker. I think she’s meant to be a competitive, winning pairs skater. You hope that this matchup can be right.

Deanna Stellato/Nathan Bartholomay
Ages: 33/27
Hometown: Ellenton, Fla.
Stellato: 2000 World junior silver medalist (singles)
Bartholomay: 12th at 2014 Olympics with Felicia Zhang

It’s not often in pairs where the woman is six years older than the man, but this team is truly unique. Stellato was the 2000 World junior silver medalist but ended her singles career as a teen due to injuries. After more than a decade away from competition, she joined the 2014 Olympian Bartholomay before this season. The duo has the fifth-highest score this season of the pairs in the U.S. Championships field.

Johnny Weir’s Take: Deanna was one of my favorite skaters when I was little. We traveled together on the Junior Grand Prix, and I always loved watching her. Having seen a couple of small video clips of them, I’m excited to see how they develop and how they perform underneath the bright lights. She has a very wonderful, experienced partner.

Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc
Ages: 21/26
Hometown: Euless, Texas
Cain: 2011 U.S. junior champion with Joshua Reagan

Cain and LeDuc may be the hottest team going into nationals. They outscored Denney and Frazier at a lower-level event last month with their best score in three lower-level events this season.

MORE: Olympic pairs champions skip 2016-17 season

Jamaica bobsled team crowdfunds for new coach

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 14:  Winston Watts of Jamaica pilots a run during a Men's Two-Man Bobsleigh training session on day 7 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at the Sanki Sliding Center on February 14, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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The Jamaica bobsled team is asking for $60,000 to hire a coach through a crowdfunding campaign.

The Jamaicans hope to qualify men’s and women’s bobsled teams for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, which will mark the 30-year anniversary of their Olympic debut in Calgary, which inspired the 1993 Disney film “Cool Runnings.”

“We have the talent, the discipline and the determination, needed to contend in the 2018 Winter Olympics,” was written on the crowdfunding page. “With a coach on staff we believe we can not only contend for a medal, but also bring a medal home, and commemorate this outstanding achievement.”

The Jamaicans can attempt next season to qualify for the Olympics. It will not be easy. Jamaica has zero World Cup results this season, a best finish on the lower-level North American Cup of seventh and was briefly stranded in Canada.

Jamaica bobsled returned to the Olympics in Sochi, for the first time in 12 years, and was the last of 29 finishers in the two-man race.

That driver, Winston Watt, turned 49 years old in December and is no longer competing with the Jamaican program.

The new Jamaican program athletes include Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian, a 2014 U.S. Olympic driver, and Michael Blair, a running back for the Cincinnati Bengals and Green Bay Packers in 1998.

The Jamaicans recently had a coach, hiring U.S. Olympian and coach Todd Hays in July 2014.

MORE: Bobsled, luge, skeleton season broadcast schedule