By CARA COOPER
The U.S. was on the brink of elimination less than a week ago.
In order to win a gold medal, they would have to beat 3-time defending Olympic gold medalists Canada twice, Switzerland, Great Britain and World No. 1 ranked Sweden.
For the fifth straight game John Shuster and Team USA rattled the best curlers in the world, and again came away with a win for the U.S.’s first ever Olympic curling gold medal by defeating Sweden 10-7.
The U.S., with Shuster, Tyler George, Matt Hamilton and John Landsteiner, had two strategies coming in – limit Sweden’s scoring and avoid the big end, and messy up the house with yellow rocks to force Sweden to make plays.
Sweden looked rattled at times, and missed several big shots as the tension of the game seemed to get to the young players. Both teams were playing with skips who have Olympic experience – four Games for Shuster and three for Sweden’s Niklas Edin – but other players were younger and not used to games of this magnitude.
It never seemed to rattle the U.S. though. They continued to put on the pressure on, and that wasn’t more apparent than in the eighth end. Sweden took a timeout, and subsequently missed the next shot as the U.S. continued to fill the house. Edin’s final throw landed on the hammer, surrounded by four U.S. stones, and Shuster, like he’s done so much the last four games, came through. A perfect throw that barely required sweeping went right through the house for the takeout and a huge five point end for the U.S. to double their score and take a 10-5 lead with two ends to play.
“Tell you what it was a lot of fun,” Shuster said after the game. “And that’s where the week changed for us and changed for me was to allow myself to go out there and enjoy it and let the work show through. Holy cow.”
It was the first 5-point end the U.S. has had in these Olympics. They’ve had only one 4-point and five 3-point ends leading up to this game.
Both times Sweden put up two the U.S. responded with two of their own.
Sweden purposefully blanked the first end after both teams quickly ran through rocks, none of which stayed. Edin’s team was able to pick up two with hammer in the second after Edin threw a perfect rock inside the 4-foot and Shuster missed a runback takeout with his final throw, giving Edin an easy throw inside for the double.
Shuster didn’t miss again though. Sweden lied one in the 4-foot and had another biting on the right side. Shuster could have played it safe and simply landed onto the button, but he instead tested his hot hand and went for the double, knocking it in perfectly to put two on the board for the U.S.
Shuster struggled early, shooting below 70 percent in the first half, but he picked it up in the second when it mattered. Edin, on the other hand, started fantastic, shooting 91 percent in the first three ends, but finished with just a 75 percent shot success rate.
“I think what I was able to accomplish and come this this week is definitely a story that we can have forever,” Shuster said. “I’m speechless for a change in my life.”
The U.S. stole another in the fourth to take their first lead, 3-2, after Edin’s takeout attempt wasn’t quite strong enough, and a measurement showed the yellow stone to just slightly closer.
But the gold medal game wasn’t meant to be easy for either team. George came up with a huge takeout for put four inside for the U.S., but three throws later Edin landed his throw on the button, and Shuster’s takeout attempt was too heavy, missing and allowing Sweden to finish the end with two points to retake the lead.
And again the U.S. responded with two. Edin threw a second bad shot for Sweden in the end, missing a takeout in the 4-foot, again setting up an easy lay in for Shuster. The U.S. led 5-4 through six ends of play.
Shuster gets the credit for making big shots as the skip, but every member of Team USA came up with big shots at a big time. Tyler George made a perfect double takeout on his second throw to lie two for the U.S. in the third. Hamilton had a double of his own in the seventh to clear the house and lie three for the U.S.
All five wins have been team efforts for the U.S., which they needed after falling 2-4 to start the tournament and playing five straight must-win games.
“On the morning of February 19, Matt’s (Hamilton), the day we played Canada, I woke up saw it and said ‘I have a choice. I have a choice to rewrite my story, to write the story of this team,'” Shuster said. “That we put the work in and I wasn’t going to let any thought in my head or any of that stuff get the in way of the story of this team… they deserve to have the skip who helped them get here and I’m glad I showed up.”
As seen on NBCOlympics.com on February 24, 2018