By Peter Burrows
I think the most amazing story of the Winter Olympics was the Gold Medal win by the U.S. men's curling team.
Curling is not a sport that gets much respect from people who don't know anything about the game. The very name, "curling," is faintly effeminate, something to scoff at. How could a game called "curling" be anything somebody would WANT to do, especially a man? I bet if it was called "Ice Hammer" it would get a lot more respect.
Furthermore, the game gets a bad rap, again from people who don't know anything about it, as a "dull" sport to watch on TV. Some of these same people, if they are bowlers, will watch bowling and be on the edge of their seats.
I used to be in a bowling league, so I don't think bowling is particularly dull, but it is. It's the dullest sport on TV, maybe the dullest sport in the world --- unless you're a bowler. After all, half the shots are the same.
Hell, bowling is even duller than golf. Let's face it, unless you are a golfer, televised golf is DULL: "Oh, boy oh boy! Another putt to watch!" (As an aside, if the Almighty granted me one wish, I would win the Masters this spring.)
If you have ever curled, and I have, a LOT, then you know curling is one of the world's greatest games, both to play and to watch. It's a game of skill, strategy and teamwork. I'd rather watch the Olympic Gold Medal Curling Finals than the Super Bowl. No contest.
So, I was very disappointed when I saw that the U.S. men's curling team was once again being led by John Shuster. This was the third Olympics in a row for Shuster, and in the previous two Olympics he had performed miserably, compiling a four-and-fourteen record.
Poor John. He had won three consecutive U.S. Olympic playoffs, something impossible to do unless you are a damn, damn good curlier, and yet the Olympic ice might as well have been kryptonite.
This Olympics was no exception. His team was two and four, with three games left in the round-robin, all against teams with winning records, all of whom would make the playoffs. Team USA had to win all three to get to the finals.
The first was against Canada, a team favored to win Gold or Silver. It came down to the last shot, a shot Shuster had to make to win, and ----he made it! It was like a switch had been flipped: Kryptonite neutralized. Shuster SUPERMAN!
They went on to beat Switzerland and Great Britain to make the playoffs, and once again faced Canada in the semi-finals, where a win would put Team USA in the finals, guaranteeing a Gold or Silver Medal, which would be the best showing of any US team in Olympic history.
I watched these last three games in their entirety, fully expecting the wheels to come off of Team USA. After all, Shuster had a proven Olympic history of missing clutch shots. As the team's "skip," he throws the last two shots in each end, and the outcome of the game is almost always determined by those last shots. He never faltered.
In fact, in those four games, Team USA was the best team on the ice: the best shot-making, the best strategy, the best elan and the best skip: Shuster. They were in charge all the way in those games, and they had to win every one to get to the finals.
There they faced Sweden, the team with the best round-robin record of 7-2. Nobody expected Team USA to win, even though they had played Sweden a number of times in the past few years, winning most of the games.
It was tied 5-5 through seven ends, an end being like an inning in baseball, there being ten in regulation curling. John Shuster, with the last shot in the eighth end, made what he would consider a routine shot, except that it was in the Olympic Gold Medal finals and, if made, would win the game and the medal for Team USA.
You can see the shot on You Tube. It will be replayed over and over in the coming years. Shuster had lamented that all of his highlight shots in previous Olympics had shown him missing a crucial shot.
Not anymore, John.
See you in the next Olympics, Champ!