Olympic champ John Shuster looks good in gold at Four Seasons Curling Club in Blaine
photos by David Ellis
After falling short of expectations in two previous Winter Olympics, John Shuster led the U.S. men’s curling team to the gold medal in PyeongChang in February. The team’s come-from-behind victory was hailed as “the Miracurl on Ice,” and brought newfound celebrity to his team. (They even collectively threw out the first pitch at the Minnesota Twins’ home opener.) But the native of Chisholm, Minnesota, places more importance on being a gold-medal father to his two young boys.
What was it like to come home from the Olympics? Have strangers been high-fiving you on the street?
Constantly, to be honest. When we travel as a group, I feel like every other person recognizes who we are. But even today, when I was having lunch with a friend at Champps in Eden Prairie, on the way out some guys were like, “Shuster! Awesome, man! Congratulations!” And I didn’t have the medal on or anything.
A lot of them probably weren’t curling diehards before the start of this year’s Olympics.
Yeah, it’s a lot of new people. It’s amazing to hear the number of people who actually took to curling this Olympics. A lot of that has to do with coverage. Back in 2002, they only showed the last two shots of each team—there was a lot of cut-and-paste. But now they’re actually showing whole games, and people can see how the whole thing develops.
Was clinching the gold medal in the final game against Sweden the happiest moment of your life?
Not even close. It was a moment of wonderment, realizing we had just won the Olympics and all the work that went into it. But it’s not even in the same galaxy as the happiness that my kids bring me. I don’t see curling like I did prior to becoming a parent.
Are your kids showing promise as budding curlers yet?
When I’m practicing, my 5-year-old will try to come on the ice and throw rocks with me. He puts both feet in the hack and both hands on the rock and he slides on his knees to the hog line and throws them. He has made some draws into the house and he has made a takeout. So, we’ll see.
After some disappointing results in previous Olympics, you had to endure nasty comments from some curling fans. Were you ever tempted to just walk away from curling?
No. I truthfully don’t care about what anyone else thinks. The only time that I said something about being done with anything is after we went down 2-4 at the Olympics this year, and I told my wife, “I think I’d be at peace never going to another Olympic games, because it isn’t worth it.” And my wife said, “You and your teammates deserve the skip that got you there.” That kick-started a big change for me. I don’t fully understand what happened that day yet, but I think that was the start of it.
Now that you’ve reached the pinnacle of Olympic success, do you plan to rest on your laurels, or do you want to do it again?
Right now, I think the best thing I can do for myself and for curling and for the legacy I want to leave is to keep playing. At 35, I’m still not at the peak age for skips in curling. And I’m still enjoying what I’m doing. But at the same time, I have two children who are 2 and 5 years old, and at some point the amount of travel and playing that I’ve been doing is going to make it more difficult to achieve the things they want to achieve. When the things that I’m doing don’t align with supporting my kids, that will be the time when I’ll leave.
What is your off-season training regimen?
Generally, I do strength stuff Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and cardio stuff Tuesday and Thursday, and then try to get some sort of activity in on the weekend, which is pretty easy when you have young kids. One of the things I’ve always wanted to do is run the Grandma’s half-marathon, and it’s as good a year to try that as any. I also do a lot of biking, pulling my kids in a Burley for a little extra weight.
Everyone seems to agree that your story of a hardscrabble group of rejects overcoming all odds to become Olympic champions reads like a screenplay. When a movie is made about you guys, who do you want to play you?
I don’t watch a lot of stuff other than children’s movies on Netflix anymore, so whoever would be in charge of deciding that kind of thing would be better able to identify that talent than I can.
How about Matt Damon?
Sure. Or Leonardo DiCaprio. He has won plenty of awards, and seems versatile.
Curling for Dummies
Rock: The polished granite stone that teams slide across the ice
Hog lines: Boundary lines on a curling sheet, the playing surface
Takeout: When a rock knocks another rock out of play
Draw: When a rock lands in play without hitting another rock
Skip: Team leader, shot-caller
Hack: Where a player puts their feet when throwing a rock