Sunday, February 25, 2018 1:00 am
Americans capture unlikely curling gold
JIMMY GOLEN Associated Press
GANGNEUNG, South Korea – John Shuster's last throw in the eighth end of the Olympic curling final clacked off one Swedish stone and knocked it into another, sending them both skittering out of scoring range.
Five yellow-handled American rocks were left behind.
The score, known as a five-ender, is so rare it has only been topped once before in the history of the men's or women's Olympic final. And it effectively clinched gold for Shuster's erstwhile “rejects,” who rallied from the brink of pool play elimination to claim only the second curling medal ever for the United States.
“It's hard to rationalize wanting to do it,” vice-skip Tyler George said after the Americans beat favored Sweden 10-7 in nine ends in the gold medal match Saturday. “But then days like this happen.”
With the King of Sweden and Ivanka Trump looking on – and bolstered by social media messages from actor Mr. T., NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers and speedskater Dan Jansen – Shuster skipped the Americans from a 2-4 record at the start of pool play to five wins in a row, starting with a victory over three-time defending Olympic champion Canada.
No U.S. curling team had ever beaten Canada at the Winter Games.
Shuster's team did it again in the semifinals. That set up a gold medal match with Sweden, the world championship runner-up and top winner in pool play, including a victory over the U.S. on Feb. 16.
After three back-and-forth ends in the final, the Swedes squandered a point in the fourth despite having the last-rock advantage known as the hammer. (The call was too close to be made with the naked eye; an umpire measured it with a gadget that goes to the millimeter.)
From there, Sweden was playing catch-up.
Tied 5-5 in the eighth, but with the Americans controlling the hammer, Sweden skip Niklas Edin failed on a double-takeout, clearing away just one of the two stones he was aiming for. That left Shuster with a relatively mundane shot for an almost unprecedented score. (Canada's six-ender in the 2006 men's final was the only other score of more than four in an Olympic gold medal match).
“During the entire end we could kind of feel it building. Their margin for error got really small,” Shuster said in the news conference with teammates team Tyler George, Matt Hamilton, John Landsteiner and alternate Joe Polo. “I can't tell you how un-nervous I was sitting in the hack to throw it. Just let it go.”
The Americans played defense in the ninth end to avoid giving up a big score. Sweden scored two, but with the hammer going to the United States for the 10th, a victory was out of reach. On his second-to-last stone, Edin made a spin-o-rama out of the starting block, bringing laughter from the crowd.
“When I missed (in the eighth), we knew for sure he was going to make that double, and we knew we were going to lose,” said Edin, who said he threw in the spin to lighten the mood so that perhaps he could “get a silver medal without throwing it into the sea.”