The USA men’s curling team, once known as the “team of rejects,” won their first gold medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Perhaps one of the least-understood Olympic sports, the main goal of curling is to get each team’s curling stones into the bullseye at the end of the ice sheet. To do so, athletes lunge and rotate the stone before releasing it on the ice. The sport is called curling because the stone curls once it is released and moves down the ice sheet.
John Shuster, who led the curling team to Olympic victory, initially developed a negative reputation after placing ninth at the 2014 Sochi Games. Numerous Twitter memes and gifs circulated online about Shuster, such as #JohnShustersucks. Rather than let the criticism set him back, however, Shuster used it as motivation to advance his team.
At first, Shuster applied to join the USA Curling high-performance training program, which only accepted 10 athletes, but did not make the cut. “I thought I was going to help develop the program, and all of a sudden, I wasn’t even picked to be in it,” Shuster told the Star Tribune.
As a result, Shuster took matters into his own hands and decided to assemble a team of so-called ‘rejects’ to train on his own, thus marking the start of his journey toward Olympic success.
“I think I just decided that 50 years from now, when my kids are showing my grandkids video from the Olympics, I didn’t want all my videos to be me failing,’’ Shuster said. He picked Matt Hamilton, John Landsteiner, and Tyler George to be on his team, who were all also rejected from the high-performance training program. “When he called me I was like, ‘so you’re calling the rejects’ because we were rejected from the club basically,” Hamilton said. “So that was a little joke, it was one of the first things he said, ‘hey, do you want to join my reject team.’”
Matt Hamilton, whose appearance notoriously resembles that of the fictional Super Mario Nintendo character, inspired the “Hamilton Mustache Militia,” where individuals would share pictures online of them wearing Hamilton’s signature mustache to show support for the curling team.
John Landsteiner’s passion for this sport was apparent since he was a boy. As a full-time corrosion engineer, his work schedule initially prevented him from joining Shuster’s team. However, his passion eventually led him to pursue the sport professionally.
As for Tyler George, he is in charge of a liquor store in Duluth, Minnesota and had never been to the Olympics before.
With the help of Shuster, the team slowly began to shed their “reject” image, and even caught the attention of the USA Curling team. They won the 2015 National Championships and placed fifth at the World Championships, after which USA Curling invited them to join their program.
“We said we’d go on the condition that we could keep the team together,” George said. “This is our squad.”
They won the US Championship again in 2017, and qualified for Pyeongchang when they won the US Curling Trials in 2017.
During the 2018 Winter Olympics, the team made four straight wins against numerous countries. When they competed against Sweden, they had a score of 10-7, which secured them the Gold medal.
“I kept smiling and I’m usually the quiet one,” Shuster said. “I told Matt, ‘I think it’s a dream. I’ll wake up tomorrow and this might not be real’. It’s just fantastic.”