GANGNEUNG, South Korea >> John Shuster and his U.S. team will play for a gold medal against Sweden after a 5-3 semifinal upset over Canada, a country that has struggled at the Pyeongchang Olympics despite dominating the world of curling for years.
The U.S. victory Thursday was a remarkable comeback story for team which had never beaten Canada at the Olympics and hadn’t made the podium since the 2006 Turin Games, when they won a bronze medal.
Just as remarkable was the loss for Canada, which has won the gold in men’s curling at the last three Winter Olympics. The Canadian women’s team, meanwhile, didn’t even make the semifinals, despite being the defending world champions.
It was the second time in the day that the Americans beat the Canadians in one of their national sports. The U.S. women’s hockey team won the gold medal game 3-2 in a shootout, snapping Canada’s streak of four consecutive gold medals in that event.
Shuster’s victory follows a particularly rocky Olympic path. After winning the bronze in Turin, he was benched at the 2010 Vancouver Games in the middle of the tournament because his performance was so poor. In Sochi, Shuster’s team finished in ninth place.
“It’s a pretty good story. This is just another step,” Shuster said. “I just decided that, 50 years from now, maybe I’m long gone, when my kids are showing my grandkids video from the Olympics, I don’t want all my videos to be me failing.”
The turning point in the semifinal game came in the eighth end, of period. The teams were tied 2-2, and Canada had a distinct advantage known as the hammer, the right to throw the final rock of the end. But Kevin Koe, the team’s “skip,” or captain, threw the stone too light and it came up short of the target known as the house. The U.S. had two rocks in the target, giving them a two-point steal and putting them ahead 4-2.
In the next end, Canada blew its chance to score two points with its final rock, when Koe threw the stone a bit too hard and it skittered out of the house. The Canadians had to settle for one point, bringing the score to 4-3.
In the final end, Shuster threw the last rock, which knocked the lone Canadian stone out of the center of the house, adding one point to their score and sealing their win.
An elated Shuster pumped his fist in victory and the Americans whooped with joy. Vice-skip Tyler George ran up and down the arena holding up his index finger in a symbol of No. 1 as the crowd chanted, “USA! USA!”
Matt Hamilton said he planned to celebrate by going back to the athletes’ village and ordering a McFlurry.
“The U.S. has been waiting for something like this and needing a sort of spark,” he said.
Kelsey Landsteiner, whose husband John Landsteiner is on the team, burst into tears after the win. She said the men had been determined to show the world that they were worthy of the gold.
“They wanted to prove to everybody that they could do it as well and really just bring it back for America,” she said. “We need to prove our curling game is just as high and just as good as the Canadians, and I think we’ve proved that.”
The Canadians will play for a bronze medal against Switzerland, which fell 9-3 to the Swedes in another semifinal match.
Swedish lead Christoffer Sundgren was talking to reporters after the victory when coach Peja Lindholm came up and kissed him on the cheek. That was about the only celebrating the team did after ensuring they could finish no worse than second.
“We’re here for the gold, that’s for sure,” said Sundgren, whose team finished first in the round robin.
Sweden picked up two points in the first end and then four in the fourth to take a 6-1 lead. Still trailing 9-3 after eight ends, the Swiss conceded defeat.
The Americans acknowledged they have another huge challenge on their hands against the Swedes.
“They’re a fantastic curling team,” Shuster said. “We’re going to have some fun and put on a show, and may the best team win.”