FARGO, N.D. (AP) — John Shuster‘s U.S. Olympic curling team had planned for a whirlwind couple of months in 2018, hoping to bounce from PyeongChang to the U.S. Championships in Fargo and then perhaps on to the world championship in Las Vegas.
Then they won a gold medal.
On Friday, the day before the start of the national tournament, Shuster’s team found themselves being chauffeured around the Big Apple after ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange.
It’s part of a celebrity tour that includes television appearances, a Sports Illustrated photo shoot, the ceremonial puck drop at an NHL game, an outdoor curling exhibition in Manhattan’s Bryant Park and even a cameo by Tyler George and Matt Hamilton in a Broadway play.
As a result, the team bowed out of the Fargo event. John Landsteiner said “it hurts a little bit” to miss his first national tournament in 12 years and a shot at worlds, but it’s tough to complain about the VIP treatment in New York.
“We keep kind of joking about it: ‘Well, we could be in Fargo right now,'” Landsteiner said, chuckling.
Rick Patzke, the CEO of USA Curling who is accompanying the group in New York, said the team is handling its newfound fame well, knowing that it’s the best chance any U.S. curling team has had to promote the game that has seen steady growth since it became an Olympic medal sport in 1998.
“They kind of wake up and say, “Where do we go today?’ It’s kind of like ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ times a thousand,” Patzke said.
Said Landsteiner, “It all feels pretty cool to a bunch of small-town guys from Minnesota.”
Patzke said Shuster’s team is still hoping to make an appearance in Fargo, although that could be nixed by a West Coast media tour.
“If we can have a plane change in Fargo, that would be great,” he said.
The national tournament at Scheels Arena in Fargo kicks off with the opening ceremony Saturday and ends with the men’s and women’s championships March 10.
While fans may be disappointed that Team Shuster isn’t playing, tourney organizers say their gold medal places more attention on the event and there are several men’s and women’s teams that could be future Olympic medalists.
“They are on a massive tour right now promoting the sport. And it’s good for it,” said Evan Workin, the manager of the Fargo-Moorhead Curling Club and a member of the Jed Brundidge team that’s playing for a national title. “It’s obviously something you need to do.”
USA Curling staff member Tom Violette, who was helping Friday with finishing touches inside the Fargo arena, said the opportunities that come with an Olympic title are “just too important and too numerous” to pass up. He also said the interest that goes with the gold medal has made it “enjoyable and challenging” for the curling organization.
“Pretty crazy times right now. It’s just nuts. I can’t come up for a better word for it,” Violette said. “I don’t think anyone in the world expected a gold medal.”
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