John Shuster

John Shuster’s rink dominates to win U.S. Olympic Curling Trials

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Curling games can take more than three hours. John Shuster‘s rink finished off Pete Fenson‘s rink in under 90 minutes at the U.S. Olympic Trials on Sunday.

Fenson conceded the third game in a best-of-three championship series after falling behind 11-1 after four of 10 regulation ends in Fargo, N.D., shaking hands with Shuster to end it early.

Shuster’s rink will now head to an international Olympic qualifier in December with hopes of earning the U.S. and his rink a spot in Sochi.

How surprising was the blowout?

“A little bit, but we decided today that we weren’t going to let these guys get comfortable on the ice,” Shuster said on NBCSN. “We were going to come after them right away and see if we couldn’t conjure up something big and get a big lead.”

Shuster had scored five points in the third end to take a commanding 7-1 lead, and then four more in the fourth to take an all-but-insurmountable edge not even halfway through.

It was a stunning one-sided game after the first two between the rinks were tied after regulation on Friday and Saturday and went 11 ends. Shuster won the opener 9-8. Fenson forced a third game with a 5-4 win Saturday.

It’s notable that Fenson rallied from 8-3 down after seven ends on Friday. He must have believed that a 10-point deficit with three more ends to make it up than Friday was too much.

“At that point in the game, it wasn’t all that difficult,” Fenson said, according to USA Today. “We were so far behind that was really no catching up anyway.”

Shuster won the trials, but his rink is not guaranteed an Olympic berth.

The next step is what’s called the Olympic Qualification Event from Dec. 10-15 in Füssen, Germany, because the U.S. did not qualify for Sochi via results at the last two World Championships.

The top two from the Olympic Qualification Event will earn the final spots at the 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 overall) and has qualified into every Olympic curling tournament since the sport returned to the Games in 1998.

Shuster called it a “B qualifier.”

“We’ve played against pretty much all the teams that are there, and we’ve had a lot of success against them,” Shuster said. “We’re going to celebrate this tonight, but go back to work, like they say, tomorrow.”

Fenson, 45, skipped the U.S. rink that won bronze at the 2006 Olympics. Shuster was also on that rink and then led his own rink to the 2010 Olympics, where he was briefly benched after a poor start.

Shuster, 31, is the manager of Pickwick Restaurant & Pub in Duluth, Minn. His vice skip is Jeff Isaacson, 30, a science teacher from Gilbert, Minn., who was also on the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team that was knocked out in round-robin play.

The last two members of the team will be Olympic rookies, should they qualify. Second Jared Zezel, 22, is a Bemidji State student and a relative of the late NHL player Peter Zezel.

Lead John Landsteiner, 23, is an engineer from Duluth.

“There’s not a weak spot on our team,” Shuster said. “Every single one of these guys is one of the best in the world at each position, respectively.”

All-Star team of U.S. curling wins women’s trials

Helen Maroulis dominates for world title after making history in Rio

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Helen Maroulis, after becoming the first U.S. woman to win an Olympic wrestling title, had quite a year.

She grappled in a cage with Conor McGregor. She lifted Teddy Roosevelt. The Maryland native cracked steamed crabs with Cal Ripken Jr. And spent three months in Norway.

Then, she came back to competition. And dominated once again.

Maroulis won the world title at 58kg on Wednesday, mercy ruling all five of her opponents by a combined 53-0 margin and finishing the day with a torn thumb ligament.

“This was really special to me because I didn’t just go to Rio, do things right there and then come back and everything crashed and burned,” said Maroulis, who has won three straight global titles (the Olympics sandwiched by two worlds). “I heard people say everything in the book [after Rio]. Maybe I just had a good day or this or that. Three years in a row, I achieved the goal I set.”

The 25-year-old took seven months off after Rio — her coach told her that she might lose worlds because of it — but looked and felt reinvigorated on Wednesday.

“I was, like, counting down the days before Rio, like don’t focus on vacation after. I was so overwhelmed and tired,” Maroulis said. “But this, I’m like, man, I love this. I could do this all over again.”

She improved to a 78-1 record since taking bronze at the 2014 Worlds. Remember, Maroulis went 1-30 in her first year as a wrestler at age 7.

She’s the only American man or woman to win an Olympic or world title without surrendering a point in at least 30 years, doing so in 2015 and again Wednesday.

Maroulis, after a hard struggle to cut weight to 53kg for Rio, moved up two divisions (11 pounds) this year. By the numbers, she faced an easier road to gold.

Saori Yoshida, the three-time Olympic champion whom Maroulis dethroned at 53kg in Rio, and 58kg superstar Kaori Icho, the only woman to win four Olympic golds in an individual event, both sat out this year for Japan.

The top 58kg seed at worlds, Olympic silver medalist Valeria Koblova of Russia, bowed out of her opening match with a left knee injury.

Maroulis plowed the remaining field, winning her first four matches Wednesday by mercy rule to reach the final by a 42-0 point margin.

Also Wednesday, 20-year-old Becka Leathers took bronze at 55kg in her senior worlds debut.

Worlds continue through the rest of this week. Olympic bronze medalist J’den Cox goes Friday, and Olympic champions Jordan Burroughs and Kyle Snyder close out the competition Saturday.

A full broadcast schedule is here.

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Dream Team, Shaq lead FIBA Hall of Fame inductees

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The Dream Team, Shaquille O’Neal and Toni Kukoč headline the FIBA international basketball Hall of Fame inductees for 2017.

A ceremony will be held Sept. 30 at FIBA headquarters in Switzerland.

The Dream Team enters the hall on the 25th anniversary of its unforgettable run at the 1992 Barcelona Games, where it went 8-0 and won by an average of 43.8 points per game.

The Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA will air every Dream Team game from the Olympics next week. A full schedule is here.

That team included two players who are already FIBA Hall of Famers — Michael Jordan and David Robinson, who both won multiple Olympic gold medals.

O’Neal was left off the Dream Team in favor of Christian Laettner as the single college player to round out the 12-man roster otherwise made up of NBA All-Stars.

But O’Neal went on to lead Dream Team II as MVP of the 1994 World Championship. He paced the U.S. in points (18 per game), rebounds (8.5 per game) and field-goal percentage (71.3).

O’Neal then played on the 1996 Olympic team that won gold in Atlanta, starting three of eight games. The U.S. was loaded at center with Hakeem Olajuwon, who led the Houston Rockets to 1994 and 1995 NBA titles, and Robinson, the 1995 NBA MVP.

Kukoč, best known as a member of Jordan’s supporting cast on the late 1990s Chicago Bulls teams, won a world title with Yugoslavia and two Olympic silver medals for Croatia.

He was MVP of the 1990 World Championship, where Yugoslavia beat the U.S. in the semifinals and the Soviet Union in the final.

Kukoč made his Olympic debut at age 19 at Seoul 1988, then was part of a star core of Croatian teams with the likes of Dražen Petrović and Dino Radja in the 1990s.

FIBA Hall of Fame Class of 2017:

TEAM
Dream Team (USA)

PLAYERS
Mickey Berkowitz (Israel)
Pero Cameron (New Zealand)
Toni Kukoč (Croatia)
Razija Mujanovic (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Shaquille O’Neal (USA)
Valdis Valters (Latvia)

COACH
Dusan Ivkovic (Serbia)

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