John Shuster is one defeat from elimination at the U.S. Olympic Curling Trials, but that’s just where he thrives.
Team Shuster was upset in opening game of the best-of-three finals series for a spot in the Beijing Olympics in Omaha on Friday night.
A team skipped by Korey Dropkin, nicknamed the Young Bucks as three of the four are in their 20s, won 8-4. Shuster, who conceded with two ends left, must now take game two on Saturday to force a decider on Sunday.
Shuster started with the hammer as top seed, but he misfired in the opening end, giving Dropkin a steal of two. Dropkin never relinquished control.
Later Friday, Tabitha Peterson‘s favored team took game one of the women’s final 8-7 off a rink skipped by Cory Christensen. Team Peterson earned bronze at worlds last spring, the first U.S. women’s medal in 15 years.
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Four years ago, Shuster’s team also dropped the opener of the best-of-three Olympic Trials finals series (to a team that included Dropkin). Shuster won the next two.
Then in PyeongChang, Shuster prevailed in five consecutive must-win games, capped by the gold-medal game, to win the U.S.’ first Olympic curling title.
Dropkin, a 26-year-old eyeing his first Olympics, beat Shuster 6-1 in a round-robin game on Wednesday, but at that point Shuster had nothing to play for. He already clinched the top seed in the finals by winning his first eight games.
Earlier in round-robin play, Shuster edged Dropkin 8-7 in an extra end. Shuster won all of his other games by at least four, never being forced the full 10 ends.
Shuster, 39, is bidding to become the first person to compete in five Olympic curling tournaments as a medal sport, according to Olympedia.org.
Dropkin wants to become the youngest skip to win Olympic Trials since 2006. He captured U.S. junior titles in 2012, 2013 and 2016, then his first senior national title in May when Shuster didn’t compete.
Dropkin’s team includes two more would-be, first-time Olympians — Mark Fenner and Tom Howell. Plus 38-year-old Joe Polo, the unused alternate on Shuster’s team at the 2018 Olympics.
Polo, who still received a gold medal, competed at the 2006 Torino Games.
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