KRWG

Sweet Redemption As Men's Curling Team Brings Olympic Gold Home To Duluth

Feb 28, 2018
Originally published on February 28, 2018 10:04 am

The gold medal-winning U.S. men's curling team received a hero's welcome Tuesday night in Duluth, Minn., sweet redemption for a team that finished last and second-to-last in the last two Olympics. They brought home the first-ever curling gold for the U.S.

To chants of 'U.S.A', four gold medalists from the men's team, along with two women's team members, followed a bagpiper into a packed ballroom through a canopy of curling brooms held up by local players.

They seemed overwhelmed by the reception.

"Well, first of all, I'm way more nervous now than I was to play for a gold medal," declared John Landsteiner, an engineer in Duluth when he's not curling. "The Olympics are great and all, but this is way cooler than the Olympics right now."

Tyler George, who owns a liquor store in Duluth, said he felt a lot of responsibility representing Team USA.

"The world's watching. When we're playing at worlds, we're playing in front of curling crowds. When we're playing at the Olympics, it's in front of everybody," he said. "And a lot of those people are now curling fans because of this."

The Duluth Curling Club, where four out of the five team members are based, has been getting bombarded with phone calls.

"I love the club, love these guys, they have worked so hard to get here," said Zandy Zweibel, whose 13-year-old daughter also competes at the club.

"The juniors are incredibly excited," Zweibel said. "My daughter has done really well this year, but this has totally heightened her enthusiasm. She's totally motivated."

And it's not just that Team USA won. It's how the team won that has motivated so many people in Duluth and beyond.

After poor showings in the last two Olympics, skip John Shuster's last name became a verb in the Urban Dictionary. The ignominious definition: failing to meet expectations.

Shuster was cut by USA Curling. But he stuck with it, formed his own team, and qualified for the Olympics again.

After a slow start in South Korea, the team improbably strung together five consecutive victories, including two over powerhouse Canada.

Shuster said this team was different.

"We always knew we had something special, and we thought that we had it in us to get up on a podium and maybe even on top of a podium," he said.

And he credited another Minnesotan for jumpstarting the team's run.

"It started with that unbelievable kick by Jessie Diggins," he said, referring to the cross-country skier's come-from-behind gold medal victory along with her teammate Kikkan Randall. "I can't tell you how much that fueled us.

"Then the ladies' hockey finally coming out triumphant, again same deal. When we got to the ice that night, you could feel it in the air."

The team even got a pre-game phone call pep talk from Mr. T.

"It was pretty awesome, he didn't give us, a pity the fool, or anything like that, but you definitely can tell, if you didn't know who was giving the speech, you could tell it was T," he said.

John Shuster lives in neighboring Superior, Wis. And he was presented with honorary keys to the city for Superior and for Duluth, from Mayor Emily Larson.

"It wasn't just that you won, it's how you won, with class, and grace and persistence, by working hard, by digging deep, sticking together, remembering who you are, by pushing against the odds, it's a beautiful, amazing story," Larson said.

As one fan in the crowd put it, it's a story so amazing, they should make a movie out of it.

"Seriously," said 30-year curler Jane Busche. "Filmed in Duluth, of course."

Copyright 2018 MPR News. To see more, visit MPR News.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The gold medal-winning U.S. men's curling team got a hero's welcome last night in Duluth, Minn. It was sweet redemption for the U.S. team, which finished last and second-to-last in the last two Olympics. Dan Kraker of Minnesota Public Radio has more.

DAN KRAKER, BYLINE: Northern Minnesota is curling country. And the gold medalists entered a packed ballroom following a bagpiper through a canopy of curling brooms held up by local players.

(SOUNDBITE OF BAGPIPES PLAYING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Cheering) USA, USA.

KRAKER: The curlers sat on a stage along with two members of the U.S. women's Olympic curling team. They seemed overwhelmed by the reception.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN LANDSTEINER: Well, first of all, I'm way more nervous now than I was to play for a gold medal.

(LAUGHTER)

KRAKER: John Landsteiner, when he's not curling, is an engineer in Duluth.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LANDSTEINER: The Olympics are great and all, but this is way cooler than the Olympics right now.

(LAUGHTER)

KRAKER: Tyler George, who owns a liquor store in Duluth, says he felt a lot of responsibility representing Team USA.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TYLER GEORGE: The world's watching. You know what I mean? When we're playing at worlds, we're playing in front of curling crowds. When we play at the Olympics, it's in front of everybody.

(LAUGHTER)

GEORGE: And a lot of those people are now curling fans, you know, because of this. And...

(APPLAUSE)

KRAKER: The Duluth Curling Club, where four out of the five team members are based, has been getting bombarded with phone calls.

ZANDY ZWEIBEL: My name is Zandy Zweibel, and I curl with the Duluth Curling Club and love the club, love these guys. They have worked so hard to get here.

KRAKER: Kids are filling up youth leagues, including Zweibel's 13-year-old.

ZWEIBEL: The juniors are incredibly excited. I mean, my daughter has done really well. This has totally heightened her enthusiasm. I mean, it - she is, like, totally motivated.

KRAKER: And it's not just that they won. It's how the team won that has motivated so many people in Duluth and beyond. After the last Olympics, team captain John Shuster was cut by USA Curling. So he formed his own team, and they qualified again. On the brink of elimination again, they reeled off five consecutive victories. Shuster says this team was different.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN SHUSTER: We always knew that we had something special. And we thought that we had it in us to get up on a podium and maybe even on top of a podium.

KRAKER: And he says to do it on the world's biggest stage was epic.

For NPR News, I'm Dan Kraker in Duluth.

(SOUNDBITE OF FEVERKIN FEATURING KORESMA'S "CALENDAR PROJECT: MAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.