From curling outcasts to U.S. Olympic rock stars
Shuster and his rink have been appearing everywhere since winning in Pyeongchang
Four years ago, after finishing 2-7 at the Sochi Olympics, USA Curling informed John Shuster he’d no longer be part of the American high-performance program.
Now he’s the Olympic gold medal winner and one of the most famous faces in the sport.
Shuster was flown in to do local breakfast TV shows here Friday and throw out the ceremonial first rock at the opening ceremonies and be part of a poolside pep rally for Greg Persinger’s Team USA at the world curling championships that open Saturday. He’ll be back to do autograph sessions and a personal appearance at the Pool Patch next weekend.
In between, Shuster, Tyler George, Matt Hamilton and John Landsteiner will fly to their home state to throw out the ceremonial opening pitches for the Minnesota Twins’ home opener against Seattle on April 5.
Friday morning, Shuster sat for an interview. When asked about being punted from the U.S. highperformance program, he took his iPhone from his pocket and quickly retrieved the email.
“I looked at it again just yesterday, so I knew I can find it. Here it is. In July of 2014 from Derek Brown of USA Curling saying, ‘I’m sorry, you haven’t been selected for part of the highperformance program.’
“I wrote him back: ‘My commitment to remaining the top player/skip remains unchanged.’”
It tells you a lot about Shuster that he’s doing anything and everything for U.S. curling to make the most of this moment.
So, what has it been like being a gold medallist?
“I don’t know if there are words for it,” he said.
“You win an Olympic gold medal and you feel on top of the curling world. But we’re in a different galaxy of being an Olympic gold medallist. It’s bonkers.”
Getting recognized is not new to Shuster.
“We curl a lot in Canada and when we’re in Canada, we get recognized a lot walking down the street. People recognize us because we’re on TV a lot in Canada. It’s fun to have that now happening in the U.S.
“On the elevator, a woman looked at me and said ‘I know you.’ My coach was with me and asked her if she watched the Olympics on TV. He didn’t say curling. All of a sudden she said ‘Shuster!’ That happens now. It never happened prior to February 24.”
Shuster marvels at the post-Olympic ride he’s still on.
“We rang the bell to open the New York Stock Exchange.
“We threw a rock on the outdoor sheet of hockey ice for that Stadium Series game (in Annapolis, Md., March 3 between the Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs) before 35,000 people.
“We dropped the puck at the Minnesota Wild game, which was something they don’t do very often.
“In the middle of the first quarter of the Minnesota Timberwolves game, the mascot went out and threw some streamers and stuff on the ice and they announced, ‘Let’s get a cleaning crew out here.’ Matt and John went out with brooms and with raincoats on, hiding their identity. Then they said, ‘Wait a minute. We know who you are. Take off those coats.’ And Tyler and myself came running out. It was a sold-out game against the Houston Rockets and instantly people were on their feet standing. The place went deafening. It was incredible.
“We were on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. That was awesome. Our whole team got to be there and sit on the couch and have a little fun with him. We did the Today Show one time when we were in Korea and then when we were back here. Matt did some stuff with CBS in Los Angeles. I did some stuff with NBC in L.A. We did a lot of stuff in the Minneapolis- St. Paul area. There used to be one rink with dedicated curling ice there. Now there are five. There likely will be 10 in the immediate future.
“Thursday we’re going to throw out the opening pitches for the Minnesota Twins. That’ll be a thrill. I’m a lifetime Minnesota Twins fan.”
They have an event in Nashville combining sports stars and country and western singers, the U.S. Olympic medal winners’ trip to the White House, and much more.
Shuster could have returned to play in the U.S. nationals the same week as the Brier was being held in Regina, but decided not to. They did go to Fargo, N.D., for the nationals and 1,000 people showed up for autographs.
“We signed for two hours and 45 minutes, from an hour before game time until after the fifth end break.
“We were planning on playing in them (the nationals) but as soon as we won (the Olympics), we decided that the opportunity to grow the sport was at a much bigger scale. With the chance to play in a world championship in Las Vegas on home ice, it was a pretty hefty trade-off.
“But I think curling growing in the U.S. is good for everybody in the entire world.”
Since winning Olympic gold in Pyeongchang, American curling skip John Shuster has been in great demand to help sell the sport in his native country, appearing on television and at various sporting events.