America’s men’s curlers produced a dramatic win over Sweden to win their first Olympic gold medal and delight a growing army of fans back home – and then received the wrong medals.
Skipper John Shuster and his team wore puzzled looks as they realised they had been given women’s medals instead of men’s after their 10-7 victory on Saturday.
But Shuster brushed off the mix-up as the team celebrated their famous and unexpected victory, which was sealed by a rare five-pointer with two ends to go.
“It’s no big deal,” beamed Shuster, who was competing at his fourth Olympics and was part of the USA team that took bronze in Turin in 2006.
“From the first time we stepped onto the ice to the last rock we threw I’ll never stop thinking what these guys have done for me,” he added, smiling at his team-mates.
With US President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka among the crowd, Shuster delivered a hammer (last throw) blow that lifted the Americans five points clear 10-5.
Sweden, whose skip Niklas Edin made a couple of crucial errors, reduced the gap to three points going into the last end but the Swedes finally conceded with one stone left.
“It feels almost unbelievable, but we came out here with great intensity and just had to believe we could do it, and make our shots,” said America’s Matt ‘Ham’ Hamilton.
USA could have been back home in Wisconsin by now after a disastrous start to the Pyeongchang Games, when they lost four of their first six matches.
But after an astonishing reversal of fortunes when they went on a four-game winning rampage, including beating curling masters Canada in the semi-finals, they finish as Olympic champions – and surprise heroes for USA.
Asked about how he had transformed his “team of rejects” Shuster replied to grins all round: “You haven’t said that right, we weren’t a team of rejects, just Team Reject!”
The US curlers were Shuster, vice-skip Tyler George, Hamilton, John Landsteiner and Joe Polo, who will now have get a 2018 Olympics tattoo to go with the logo from the Turin Games he has on his right shoulder.
The Americans may have had a high-profile fan amongst the 3,000 crowd, but the Swedes trumped Ivanka with a king, Carl XVI Gustaf, the Swedish monarch who was sitting a few seats away.
The teams were led out for the curling climax by a kilted Korean playing ‘Scotland The Brave’ on bagpipes, in a nod to the sport’s origins in medieval Scotland.
The Swedes were 2-0 up by the second end, but Team Shuster levelled immediately, and went 3-2 up in the fourth end with their yellow stone deemed an infinitesimal amount closer to the tee than Sweden’s red.
Irked Swedes make for dangerous foes and they wasted no time bouncing back, skip Edin throwing a perfect hammer to put the Scandinavians back in front at 4-3.
But to enthusiastic support from supporters in stars and stripes, as opposed to Ivanka who was just in stripes – red and black – Shuster had his men back in front at 5-4 after a mistake by his opposite number.
A big throw from Hamilton, who always has a lime green cap hanging out of his back pocket for luck, for a double takeout triggered cries of ‘U-S-A, U-S-A’, but the Swedes nicked the seventh end to draw back level at 5-5.
Shuster then pulled off his master throw to secure the US a stunning five-pointer to go 10-5 up and earn the US a famous success.
“I can’t tell you how unnervous I was over that throw, these guys gave me the confidence,” said Shuster.
“Curling’s not like basketball or baseball back home, but we’ve seen all the buzz on social media that curling has a chance of taking off in our country and we’d like to help that,” he added, before heading off “to get drunk!”