John Shuster won the U.S. Olympic Trials, qualifying for a record fifth Olympic curling appearance and to defend his surprise 2018 gold medal.
Team Shuster rallied to take the best-of-three finals series over a team skipped by Korey Dropkin, winning the decider by a comfortable 5-4 on Sunday. Shuster, 39, and his quartet lost the opener in Omaha on Friday night, putting them in must-win scenarios on Saturday and Sunday nights.
Shuster delivered, just as he did at the 2018 Olympic Trials (losing the first game of the finals series) and at the PyeongChang Winter Games (starting 2-4, then securing five consecutive must-win games to bag the first U.S. Olympic curling title).
Dropkin, 26, was in position to become the youngest skip to win a U.S. Olympic Trials since 2006. Until a misfire in the sixth end of the second game, breathing life into Shuster. Two other men on Dropkin’s “Young Bucks” team are in their 20s. But Shuster’s group, with everyone 31 and older, made the American team of the future wait at least one more year.
“The hardest I’ve ever worked to beat anybody my entire life,” Shuster told Dropkin during post-game handshakes.
Shuster can become the first person to curl in five Olympic tournaments as medal events (since 1998; so can 46-year-old Torger Nergård, should Norway qualify), according to Olympedia.org.
Shuster is joined by 2018 gold-medal teammates Matt Hamilton and John Landsteiner and new team member Chris Plys, who replaced Tyler George when he retired two months after PyeongChang.
Nobody has won multiple Olympic gold medals in the men’s tournament. Shuster will enter as an underdog, as he did in PyeongChang after notable failures as a skip in 2010 (when he was briefly benched and Plys promoted) and 2014. His team finished fifth at the last two world championships in 2019 and earlier in 2021.
Sweden, skipped by Niklas Edin, won all three world titles in this Olympic cycle. It was Edin whom Shuster stunned in the 2018 Olympic final. Edin won four of his five games against Shuster since the start of 2019, according to Curlingzone.com.
The next significant curling event is the ongoing Canadian Olympic Trials, with playoffs next weekend.
Canada was a medalist in the first 11 Olympic curling tournaments since it returned as a medal sport in 1998, but it failed to make the podium in the men’s and women’s events in 2018.
Even so, three Olympic gold-medal skips are in the round-robin fields in Saskatoon — Brad Gushue (2006), Brad Jacobs (2014) and Jennifer Jones (2014).
Then in December, Plys and Vicky Persinger try to make the Olympic mixed doubles tournament in the last-chance qualifier in the Netherlands.
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