By Adelle Whitefoot
When John Shuster threw the hammer in the eighth end to score five points, the nearly 100 people in the Duluth Curling Club erupted in cheers and chants of “Shuster!”
It may have been nearly 3 a.m. in Duluth, but sleep was the last thing on anyone’s mind.
Shuster’s shot secured the gold medal for the Duluth-based U.S. men’s curling team as the Americans beat Sweden 10-7 on Saturday in the Winter Olympics final in South Korea.
Because of the time difference, the gold-medal game started at 12:30 a.m. in Duluth. The Duluth Curling Club stayed open late so members and their guests — many of them friends or family members of the Olympic curlers — could watch the game together, supporting the team from their club.
The atmosphere at the beginning of the night was electric as members were nervous and excited to watch the match. But by the end of the eighth end it was all smiles.
“The game is over,” said Jake Mellinger of Duluth. “There’s no pressure anymore.”
But not everyone felt that way. Jeff Brandon of Duluth was a nervous wreck until the very end.
“The more rocks that Sweden throws the better I feel” Brandon said.
When Sweden finally conceded the game in 10th end, the jam-packed Curling Club crowd went wild.
“There’s nothing bigger. This is great,” said Dave Somppi of Duluth. “I can’t wait for the welcome home. It will be off the wall.”
The U.S. team includes skip Shuster, a Chisholm native now living in Superior, John Landsteiner and Tyler George of Duluth, Matt Hamilton of McFarland, Wis., and alternate Joe Polo of Duluth. They’re coached by Phill Drobnick of Eveleth.
Shuster, Landsteiner, George and Polo all are members of the Duluth Curling Club. Shuster and Polo were on the U.S. team that won bronze at the 2006 Winter Olympics.
“I personally have known Shuster and Tyler for 15 years. They’re great guys and we couldn’t be happier for them and their accomplishments already,” Tony Lasky, vice president of the Curling Club board, said before the game started. “Even if they don’t win the gold we’re so happy and proud of all that they’ve accomplished.”
But the team did win Olympic gold — the first team to do so in U.S. men’s curling history — and Lasky had predicted it at the beginning of the night when he said the team has “been as good as I’ve seen them play. There’s no reason why they can’t beat Sweden.”
During an interview on NBC Sports Network on Saturday morning, George said he hopes the team’s accomplishments will help grow the sport of curling in the U.S., and Lasky said the same thing late Friday night.
“To have the exposure of this team playing for not just a medal, but a gold medal, is great to grow the sport of curling,” Lasky said. “The 2006 team won the bronze medal but this is the pinnacle of American curling. We love to see the sport grow and this I think will really grow the sport and people will want to try it. And if they are like us they’ll love it.”