The US men’s rink claimed their first ever Olympic curling title with a 10-7 defeat of heavyweights Sweden at the Gangneung Curling Centre on 24 February.
With the score deadlocked at 5-5 after seven ends, US skip John Shuster provided a moment of real magic with a pinpoint double take-out to score five and open up an unassailable gap.
It was a huge upset, giving the Americans – and Shuster – only their second ever Olympic curling medal, following the bronze earned at Turin 2006.
Defeat meant further Olympic disappointment for Niklas Edin who had skipped Sweden to world championship titles in 2013 and 2015 but had to settle for a bronze at Sochi 2014.
The contest got off to a highly tactical start with the Swedes blanking the first end then scoring a pair in the second only to have the USA hit right back with a two on another brilliant hammer shot from Shuster.
The USA then stole a point in the fourth end to lead, 3-2. The Swedes bounced back with two in the fifth end and the lead then see-sawed between the rinks until the eighth end, when the Americans delivered their decisive five-point hammer blow.
With the match so finely balanced, US skip Shuster said that the pressure leading into the eighth end had been mounting, but he paid tribute to the rest of his rink for helping to ensure he was able to stay calm and relaxed as he delivered the ‘killer’ blow.
“We could feel it building. The margin for error got incredibly small,” said the 35-year-old. “I was happy to get the chance to make that last shot and put an exclamation mark on it. For me it was just focus. I can't tell you how un-nervous I was… These guys around me - their belief and their hard work gave me the confidence just to let it go.”
Gracious in defeat
Shuster’s Swedish counterpart Edin felt that his rink was already on the back foot prior to the USA’s spectacular five-stone take-out, and he rued a missed chance for two points in the previous end.
“I think already in the seventh we were in big trouble,” he reflected. “We took a lot of time deciding if we wanted to play a difficult shot for two points. I felt like I could make that shot for one [point], but I didn't feel we were going to win the game if I played that shot.”
Gracious in defeat, the Swede was also quick to pay tribute to the American quartet, who he acknowledged as worthy victors.
“They have a lot of fun. They take it easy so to speak. They have a lot of spirit. On tour sometimes they don't play well all the time, they're kind of up and down, but when they play well they really get a good team spirit going. I think they started this week with a record of two wins and four defeats and obviously really turned things around from there.”
While curling is something of a national obsession in neighbouring Canada, in the USA it enjoys nowhere near the same levels of grassroots interest or media attention. However, Shuster hopes that his rink’s victory at the Gangneung Curling Centre will help to change that.
“I think we saw that curling really has a chance for taking off in our country and we'd like nothing more than to help with that,” he said.
He also believes that the final itself, and the tournament in general, provided a great advert for the positive sporting and human values that curling strives to embody.
“You see us playing in a gold medal curling match against Sweden. They're not our neighbours, and they don't live close to us. However, two of those guys on the Swedish team were at [US rink member] Matt Hamilton's wedding.
“These are our friends and the global community of curling is really an incredible group of people and it really embodies all that we hope humanity can be.”