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U.S. curlers reflect on success one year after Olympic gold

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KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Nearly a year has passed since he won gold in South Korea, and John Shuster can still smile about his transformation from obscure curler to Olympic sensation.

“It’s a lot of pinch-yourself kind of days,” he said.

Shuster is back on the ice this week, competing at the USA Curling National Championships. His team also includes two of his fellow gold medalists from 2018 — John Landsteiner and Matt Hamilton — and in a way, this event represents a return to normalcy for them all. The past year has been unlike any they’ve experienced before, an opportunity to celebrate their memorable victory and promote their sport.

“We went everywhere across the country. All summer, we were doing a lot of things — California to New York, in between,” Landsteiner said. “Barely any time at home. I think, before this event, I was home for two weeks in a row, and it was the most I’ve been home in a year and a half.”

The gold medal at the Pyeongchang Olympics capped a remarkable run for the much-maligned Shuster, a Minnesota native who won bronze at the 2006 Olympics but was spurned when he applied for the U.S. high performance program after the 2014 Games in Russia. Undeterred, Shuster put together a team good enough to make it to South Korea last year, and when the Americans beat Sweden for the gold medal, it was one of the highlights of the Olympics for U.S. fans.

Curling isn’t a mainstream Olympic showcase like hockey or figure skating, but it certainly has a niche among viewers who enjoy its quirks — and the relatability of the competitors. After returning home, Shuster’s team rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange and was honored at an outdoor NHL game in Annapolis, Maryland.

Shuster recalls playing in a celebrity golf tournament with some other Minnesota athletes — and discovering that he had a parking space reserved for him.

“I remember pulling into the parking lot, I parked my car and I went walking by. I was like, oh, the top 10 people all have their own car parking spots, their names on it. As I was walking, it was like, Jason Zucker, Adam Thielen, Kyle Rudolph, John Shuster,” he said. “I’m like, wait a minute, I had a parking spot! There was like, probably 40 NHL and NFL players that were at this tournament, and there was only 10 people that had parking spots, and I was one of them.”

When an American team exceeds expectations at the Olympics the way Shuster’s did, a sport like curling has an opportunity to capitalize. Although the U.S. is a ways away from any kind of curling boom, there’s some evidence that the game is growing.

“Our local club here has gone from around 90 members to over 150, literally since the Olympics,” said Garnet Eckstrand of the Kalamazoo Curling Club.

There are even some new potential ambassadors gravitating to the sport . Former Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Jared Allen took up curling, forming a team with three other former NFL players: Rams quarterback Marc Bulger, Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck and Titans tackle Michael Roos. Allen said he’d watched Olympic curling, and he certainly remembers Shuster’s big victory.

“They made this insane run, and it really was like, dude, that’s awesome,” Allen said. “The coolest part about it is, you can see the confidence clicking. Now when I watch them play . they know they can beat everybody.”

Allen and Roos have actually been competing at nationals in Michigan this week, although not on the same team. Shuster’s group, not surprisingly, will play for the title Saturday after mostly rolling through this tournament. The team’s game Thursday — a 9-0 victory — was so lopsided that the opponent conceded before the halfway point.

Last year, Shuster’s team didn’t compete at nationals — the tournament was around the same time as the post-gold medal victory tour. That’s not an issue this time around. There are more goals ahead for Shuster and his teammates — they have an Olympic title to defend, after all.

But even as they focus on the future, these American curling celebrities still have plenty of appreciation for what they’ve already accomplished.

“It’s been pretty incredible to see the uptick in interest, just based on us maybe winning a gold medal, but also not all that surprising,” Shuster said. “Curling has a way of hooking you, when you give it a legitimate try.”

Lindsey Vonn and her dog to host Amazing Race-like series

Lindsey Vonn
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Lindsey Vonn and one of her three dogs, Lucy, will host “The Pack,” an “Amazing Race”-like series where dogs and their humans compete in challenges across continents.

The Amazon Prime show filmed earlier this year and will premiere later in 2020. Production included a team of veterinarians and dog experts to ensure “a positive experience for everyone.”

Twelve teams vie for a prize of $500,000, plus $250,000 for the animal charity of their choice.

Vonn, the 2010 Olympic downhill champion and female record holder with 82 World Cup wins, retired after the February 2019 World Championships, four shy of the overall victories record held by Swede Ingemar Stenmark.

She traveled the last few years of her career with Lucy, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel that she got in Italy in January 2016. Lucy required German, Italian and American passports to accompany Vonn on the ski circuit.

Vonn previously adopted rescue dogs Leo, a brindle boxer to help her through recovery from knee surgery that kept her out of the 2014 Olympics, and Bear.

Vonn’s previous broadcast credits included a 2010 appearance as a secretary on “Law & Order,” two judge spots on “Project Runway” and an episode of “Running Wild with Bear Grylls” in 2016.

MORE: Lindsey Vonn’s mom is tough as nails

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London Marathon mass event canceled; Kipchoge, Bekele still to race

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The London Marathon will not hold a mass participation race of 40,000-plus runners, but will have an elites-only event featuring the fastest marathoners in history on a different course.

Organizers announced that the World Marathon Major, previously rescheduled for Oct. 4 from April 26, will be restricted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Elite runners, including world-record holders Eliud Kipchoge and Brigid Kosgei and Kenenisa Bekele, the second-fastest man in history, will instead race but not on the usual route around London landmarks.

They will run on an enclosed looped in St. James’s Park in a “secure biosphere” without spectator access. Elite wheelchair racers, including past champions David Weir and Manuela Schar, will also compete.

Before canceling, London Marathon organizers planned to use Bluetooth and wideband ranging to monitor every participant’s distance from each other, though they did not specify if the event would have still included more than 40,000 runners.

If a participant spent more than 15 minutes within a specified distance of anyone else, and if somebody had informed organizers they contracted the virus within two weeks after the race, he or she would have been contacted.

“Despite all our efforts, the fantastic support from all of our partners and the progress that has been made on planning for the return of smaller mass participation events that are not on the roads, it has not been possible to go ahead with a mass socially distanced walk or run,” event director Hugh Brasher said in press release.

Four of the other five annual World Marathon Majors this year were canceled — Berlin, Boston, Chicago and New York City. The earliest major, Tokyo, was held March 1 with elite runners only.

Kipchoge, the Olympic marathon champion from Kenya, and Bekele, a three-time Olympic track champion from Ethiopia, were previously announced as headliners for London in the winter, before the pandemic.

Kipchoge lowered the world record to 2:01:39 at the 2018 Berlin Marathon. Bekele clocked 2:01:41 in Berlin last September. They are the only men to ever break 2:02 in a marathon. Kipchoge also clocked 1:59:40 at a non-record-eligible event in Vienna on Oct. 12 instead of racing a fall marathon.

Kipchoge has won 11 of 12 marathons since moving to road racing after failing to make Kenya’s 2012 Olympic track team.

Bekele, the more accomplished track athlete with Olympic golds and world records at 5000m and 10,000m, has been a roller-coaster road runner.

Bekele owns two of the seven fastest marathons in history, recorded three years apart in Berlin. In between, he failed to finish two marathons and, in his last London start in 2018, clocked a pedestrian 2:08:53 for sixth place.

That was more than four minutes behind Kipchoge, who is undefeated in four London starts and has beaten by Bekele by at least 100 seconds in all four of their head-to-head marathons.

The Kenyan Kosgei took 81 seconds off Paula Radcliffe‘s 16-year-old women’s marathon world record on Oct. 13, clocking 2:14:04 to win the Chicago Marathon.

The 2021 London Marathon will also be held in October to give a better chance of holding a mass race than in April.

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MORE: U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials results