Heath McCormick

John Shuster, 30 pounds lighter, rallies for 4th Olympic curling berth

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John Shuster is going to a fourth Olympics. It’s one more chance to prove Urban Dictionary wrong.

Shuster, 30 pounds lighter since his second straight Olympic failure in Sochi, led a team that beat Heath McCormick‘s squad at the U.S. Olympic Trials finals in Omaha on Saturday night.

Shuster, Tyler GeorgeMatt Hamilton and John Landsteiner lost the opener of a best-of-three finals series on Thursday.

They came back to deliver in a pair of must-win games, 9-4 on Friday night and 7-5 on Saturday, after spending each day at the Omaha Zoo.

The new-look Shuster — leaner and, at least this weekend, clutch — would astonish those who know him by scenes at the last two Olympics.

After taking bronze in 2006 as a role player, he led the last two U.S. Olympic teams to 2-7 records in 2010 and in 2014. Last place in Vancouver, where he was benched after an 0-4 start. Next to last place in Sochi.

After the last Olympics, the former bartender from Chisholm, Minn., was left off USA Curling’s 10-man high performance team.

He took it as motivation to get in shape.

“They wanted athletes,” he said. “It was really just a wake-up call.”

Shuster, a father of a 2- and a 4-year-old who once said, “If I don’t have pizza three or four times a week, I’m not happy,” now totes meal replacement shakes. He’s starting to enjoy Olympic lifting.

Shuster, George, Hamilton and Landsteiner, all absent from that USA Curling high performance list, formed their own team. They became Team USA in their first season together and represented the Stars and Stripes at worlds in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Their results — fourth, third and fifth —  marked the best string of U.S. men’s or women’s finishes at that level in a decade.

Shuster said this team is more prepared going into the Olympics than in 2006, 2010 and 2014.

“This one actually feels a little bit more like the first one,” Shuster told media in Omaha. “It’s kind of a long journey with a common group. The last two Olympics that I went two, our teams came together the last year. This group, basically from the time the last Olympic cycle ended, we came together and did it all together. That makes this one extra special.”

Shuster is set to join Debbie McCormick as the only Americans to curl at four Olympics. The sport was part of the first Winter Games in 1924, then absent as a medal sport until 1998.

“I don’t think it’s about the four Olympics for me,” Shuster said on NBCSN. “What this is about — and what I’m about — is getting my teammates to now. I have two new Olympians on this team, and I know how special that is.”

George, the 35-year-old vice skip for Shuster, led a team that lost to Shuster in the 2010 Olympic Trials final. The liquor store manager from Duluth, Minn., is going to his first Winter Games.

“I’ve never gotten to experience them, besides from afar, like that guy staring out the window at the rainy day,” George said. “Healing, I think that’s the best word I can go with.”

As is the 28-year-old Hamilton, whose younger sister qualified for PyeongChang earlier Saturday.

Landsteiner, a 27-year-old corrosion engineer, played with Shuster since 2011, including in Sochi.

Alternate Joe Polo can go 12 years between Olympic appearances after taking bronze on that Torino team.

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John Shuster is two wins from becoming the second American to curl at four Olympics.

Shuster, an Olympic bronze medalist in 2006 and skip in 2010 and 2014, leads a team that will play a rink skipped by 41-year-old Heath McCormick in the U.S. Olympic Trials finals in Omaha.

The best-of-three series to determine the U.S. Olympic team starts Thursday night on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app. A full trials broadcast schedule is here.

Shuster’s team went 6-2 against four other teams in round-robin play, easily advancing to the finals.

McCormick, who was third at the 2014 Olympic Trials won by Shuster, squeezed into the finals by beating 49-year-old Todd Birr‘s team 8-6 in a tiebreaker Thursday morning. Both teams were 4-4 in round-robin.

Birr, 49 and the oldest male or female curler at trials, was trying to become the oldest U.S. Winter Olympic competitor in 70 years.

Shuster’s team beat McCormick’s team 7-5 and 6-5 in their two round-robin games this past week. They are the top U.S. teams in the world rankings (Shuster is 18th; McCormick 20th).

Shuster, 35, hopes to join Debbie McCormick (unrelated to Heath) as the only American curlers to compete at four Olympics.

The women’s finals also feature the top two ranked teams skipped by Nina Roth and Jamie Sinclair. No woman in the trials field has Olympic experience.

The U.S. has earned one Olympic curling medal, that 2006 men’s bronze. Curling was part of the Winter Games in 1924 and every Olympics since 1998.

Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway and Great Britain are the world powers in curling.

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