John Shuster

U.S. men’s curling team qualifies for Olympics

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The U.S. curling team is now the U.S. Olympic curling team.

John Shuster and the Americans won their fifth straight game, a winner-goes-to-the-Olympics finale, 8-5 over the Czech Republic at the Olympic Qualification Event in Fuessen, Germany, on Sunday.

“The butterflies of winning an opportunity like this, they never get old,” Shuster said. “That’s why we play this game.”

The U.S. blew it open in the eighth of 10 ends, scoring five points to take a 7-3 lead over the Czechs.

“Good end, boys,” a relaxed Shuster told his rink as Billy Squire‘s “The Stroke” played inside the Bundesleistungszentrum.

Shuster made his third U.S. Olympic Team after winning bronze in 2006 and skipping the Americans to last place in 2010, when he was temporarily benched. The 31-year-old is the manager of Pickwick Restaurant & Pub in Duluth, Minn.

He’ll be joined in Sochi by his vice skip, two-time Olympian Jeff Isaacson, a science teacher from Gilbert, Minn. The team also includes first-time Olympians John Landsteiner, a 23-year-old engineer from Duluth, and Jared Zezel, a 22-year-old Bemidji State student.

Craig Brown, 38, is also on the team as an alternate. Brown is the younger brother of the U.S. women’s Olympic team skip, Erika Brown. Craig Brown is likely to be the oldest male member of the U.S. Olympic Team across all sports.

The U.S. won five straight games after opening the eight-team Olympic Qualification Event with a 2-2 record. Two teams would qualify for the Olympics from the event, so the Americans needed an above-.500 record in round-robin play to have a chance.

“These guys worked their tails off,” Shuster said. “They’re some of the best in the business. I’m just extremely proud of how well out team has played the entire season, especially when we had our backs against the wall at the start of this week.”

Here’s the full Olympic men’s curling field (nation’s World Curling Federation ranking in parentheses):

Canada (1)
Great Britain (2)
Sweden (3)
Norway (4)
Switzerland (5)
Denmark (6)
China (7)
U.S. (8)
Germany (10)
Russia (12)

The Olympic men’s curling tournament begins Feb. 10, the Monday after the Opening Ceremony. The U.S. will open against Norway, which is known for its pants.

The U.S. has sent men’s and women’s curling teams to every Olympics since the sport was re-added to the Games in 1998.

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Ashley Wagner ‘sick’ of hearing about her age

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KANSAS CITY — Ashley Wagner can become the oldest U.S. women’s figure skating champion in 90 years, but it would not be wise to tell her that.

“I think that this sport focuses on age way too much,” the three-time U.S. champion Wagner, 25, said in a press conference after Thursday night’s short program at Sprint Center (recap, videos here). “I’m so sick of hearing about my age. I’m so sick of it guys. If anybody asks me one more question about my age, I’ll just stop talking. It’s ridiculous.”

Wagner placed third in the short program, 1.88 points behind leader Karen Chen, who is 17 years old. She’ll try to surpass Chen in the free skate Saturday (8 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Chen sat in Thursday’s press conference between Wagner and second-place Mirai Nagasu, a 23-year-old who won the U.S. title way back in 2008.

“They’re my role models,” Chen said. “I watched them skate for years and years.”

Wagner then interjected before the next question.

“You just made both of us feel so old,” Wagner said, drawing laughter.

Truth is, Wagner is often asked about her age, her experience, her highs and lows, and answers respectfully and with wisdom. She did again after competing Thursday night for the first time in nearly two months, under the pressure as U.S. Championships favorite.

“I choose to view the word ‘veteran’ as experienced, and experience is never a bad thing, because I’ve gone through the good experiences and the brutally terrible awful experiences,” said Wagner, who last season earned world championships silver, ending a 10-year U.S. women’s drought.

NBC Olympics analyst Tara Lipinski was surprised to learn Wagner wasn’t particularly interested in questions about her age.

“Age is definitely a factor,” Lipinski said Friday. “You can pretend it’s not, but it is. I tried to pretend that it wasn’t, but it was. It was talked about a lot. I was too young [winning the Olympics at age 15]. Whether it’s the opposite [age] range, age is a factor.”

Wagner competes in a sport where, in other top countries, crops of teens are replaced by the next crop of teens. At last month’s Japanese and Russian Championships, the oldest women’s podium finisher was 18 years old.

Wagner may be past the usual prime years for skaters, but Lipinski pointed out that being (very) young has its disadvantages.

“I felt that I didn’t have a lot to draw on,” said Lipinski, who at 14 became the youngest U.S. women’s champion in 1997. “I didn’t have a lot of outside perspectives. Skating was my life. So any small mistake took me so down, and it was very hard for me to put this sport in perspective.”

Wagner was asked if she worried she may have peaked with that 2016 World Championships silver medal.

“If I peaked,” she said, “I would have retired.”

If Wagner makes the PyeongChang Winter Games, she would become the oldest U.S. Olympic women’s singles skater since 1928. Which would actually be an incredible accomplishment in a teen-dominated sport.

That sort of statistic was probably furthest from her mind in Thursday’s press conference.

“We definitely need a new crop of girls to come in,” Wagner said, cracking a smile, “because I will die one day.”

MORE: U.S. Figure Skating head says Russia shouldn’t be in PyeongChang

How to watch U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Friday

FILE - In this Dec. 8, 2016, file photo, Nathan Chen of the United States, competes in the men's short program at the Grand Prix of Figure Skating final in Marseille, southern France. The 17-year-old's revelatory performance at last month's Grand Prix final in France has made him American figure skating's bright new star. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)
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U.S. Figure Skating Championships coverage continues Friday, live on NBCSN, Universal HD and streamed on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app, starting at 6 p.m. ET.

The short dance and men’s short programs are scheduled in Kansas City.

The NBC Sports All-Access page will provide live scoring and more all week.

Short dance
6-8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app
STREAM LINK | SKATE ORDER | PREVIEW

Men’s short program
8:30 p.m.-midnight ET, Universal HD
SKATE ORDER | PREVIEW

In dance, defending champions Maia and Alex Shibutani take on two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue. They’re heavy favorites for the three world championships berths.

Nathan Chen leads the men’s field, seeking to become the youngest U.S. men’s champion since 1966. He faces past champions Jason Brown and Max Aaron with two worlds berths at stake this weekend

The free dance will be Saturday and the men’s free skate Sunday, both on NBC and streamed on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app. A full broadcast schedule is here.

MORE: U.S. Figure Skating boss says Russia shouldn’t be in PyeongChang