Five-ring Circus

The Legend of Curling Gold

John Shuster just finished writing the script for the greatest underdog story of the 2018 Olympics.

John Shuster, holding his curling broom, stands on one leg and yells in triumph.
USA’s John Shuster celebrates a point during the curling men’s gold medal game between the USA and Sweden during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the Gangneung Curling Centre in Gangneung on February 24, 2018.
WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images

Earlier this week, I outlined the incredibly cinematic story of the U.S. men’s Olympic curling team. John Shuster’s squad of has-beens—better known as “Team Rejects”—was shunned by USA Curling and dismissed by the international curling community. And yet they overcame all the doubters to make it not just to the Olympics, but to the gold-medal game. My article on Thursday ended with Team Shuster preparing to play the heavily favored Swedish squad, the outcome of their story still in doubt. Who doesn’t love a cliffhanger?

The final scenes played out better than I could’ve scripted them. But first, it’s worth recounting Team Shuster’s journey in Pyeongchang. The Olympics didn’t start off well for the underdogs. The Americans went 2-4 in their first six games, with Shuster posting an embarrassingly low shooting percentage. For many curling diehards watching at home, it seemed like just another disappointing performance from the American skip, who’d been ridiculed in 2014 for his ninth-place finish in Sochi. The online haters were out in full force:

In the film, @Shustersucks will be played by the little boy who starred as Stillwell in A League of Their Own.

Facing elimination and another ignominious return to the United States, Team Shuster had no choice but to run the table. That’s exactly what they did.

First, the rejects beat Canada in round-robin play—the first time a group of American men had ever beaten a Canadian curling squad at the Olympics. Then the Americans beat the Swiss. The haters didn’t know what to think:

Team Shuster went on to beat the Brits to proceed to the semifinals. (Mr. Bean will cameo as the British skip.) Then, in the semifinals, Team Rejects beat the Canadians again to advance to the gold-medal game. “I think I just decided that 50 years from now, when my kids are showing my grandkids video from the Olympics, I didn’t want all my videos to be me failing,’’ said Shuster, per Minnesota’s Star Tribune. The music swells.

With Canada vanquished, Shuster’s crew got ready to play Sweden. The Scandinavians had humiliated the Americans in round-robin play by a score of 10-4. This is where Act 3 of our story begins in earnest.

Although the Swedes are surely delightful fellows in real life, they will make for perfect cinematic antagonists, with their well-coiffed beards and trim figures. Compared to the Americans, they look joyless and sinister. They are robotically efficient curling machines.

GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 24:  Niklas Edin of Sweden delivers a stone during the game against the United States during the Curling Men's Gold Medal game on day fifteen of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Gangneung Curling Centre on February 24, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
The evil Swedes in action.
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Swedish skip Niklas Edin was once photographed shirtless and pulling a plow, his muscular torso rippling in the setting sunlight. The Americans, for their part, look like they might get winded pushing a wheelbarrow. There has been some chatter online about whether, in the inevitable film, the character of American curler Matt Hamilton ought to be played by Nick Offerman (my choice) or Danny McBride. (That online chatter came from Hamilton himself, to be clear.) The debate here sort of underscores my point: When those guys take off their shirts, it is inevitably the punchline to a joke.

Back to the action: The Gangneung Curling Centre was packed as the gold-medal match began.
NBC was there, with commentary provided by Jason Knapp and legendary Canadian curler Kevin “The Old Bear” Martin. Though he is far too old and looks nothing like Martin, this role will be played by Fred Willard. This is non-negotiable. “Not a lot of folks expected Team USA to get here, especially after going 2-4 in round-robin play,” said Knapp. In the film, this line will go to Fred Willard, and it will be funnier.

Despite their impressive run to the finals, the Americans were still underdogs to Sweden. But Team Shuster was buoyed by a pregame pep talk by Mr. T—this isn’t dramatic license, this actually happened.

After that inspirational speech, the Americans matched the Swedes shot for shot, keeping the score close through the first seven ends. Periodically, the broadcast cut back to shots of the Duluth Curling Club, in Minnesota, which I can only assume was packed with friends, family members, and loyal customers of team member Tyler George’s liquor store. If I know Minnesotans, they were tanked to the gills on Grain Belt. (The movie will feature a little bit of product placement.)

The match reached its climax at the conclusion of the eighth end. It was tied 5-5 when Shuster, long derided for his perceived inability to come through in the clutch, delivered the hammer. “This is a potential double for five and maybe gold for the U.S. Can he get it?” said Knapp. “He can! Five on the board for Team USA!”

The United States had a 10-5 lead. The crowd went wild. The Swedes looked lost. The Duluth Curling Club lost its mind. “The Americans going nuts in South Korea, and all across the States,” said Knapp, as the broadcast cut to a commercial. “Wha’ happened?” Fred Willard will say in the film.

Though two ends remained, the match was effectively over. Team Sweden scored two points in end nine to make it a little more dramatic—in the film, they will score four points—but there was no recovering from Shuster’s kill shot. “[Niklas Edin] realizes the writing’s on the wall. In this case, it’s on the ice,” said Knapp.

Edin conceded the match with one Swedish stone left to play, and the Americans had won, 10-7. As cries of “USA! USA!” rang out from the arena, Shuster and his teammates embraced. He had assembled Team Rejects without any federation support; he had believed in himself when literally no one else believed in him. Now, he had won the United States’ first curling gold. At home, the haters ate their words:

The best part of this story, to my mind, is that it doesn’t have to end here. Unlike their counterparts in the skiing and snowboarding events, the men of Team Shuster don’t spend the year shuttling between World Cup events and earning endorsement cash. After the Olympics, all four of these guys will likely go home and resume their regular jobs. George will return to his liquor store. Shuster might just pick up where he left off at Dick’s Sporting Goods. As was the case with the stars of 1980’s “Miracle on Ice”—now a major motion picture!—the 35-year-old Shuster, 29-year-old Hamilton, 35-year-old George, and 27-year-old John Landsteiner are regular guys made good. And since curlers can excel well into their 40s, there is no reason why the story can’t continue.

There will be one post-credits scene in this film. It will take place in April 2018, and it will be set at George’s liquor store. A harried George will be working the register, checking out a customer who’s buying a 12-pack of Grain Belt. “Thirteen bucks,” George will say, and the customer will slap down a wad of Chinese currency. George will look up to see Shuster smiling at him. “Ever been to Beijing?” he’ll say. Fade to black. Sequel set for release in 2022.

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the Pyeongchang Olympics.

Somebody Needs to Make a Movie About John Shuster and His Ragtag Team of Curling Rejects

Is Curling Measuring Device Guy the Best Job at the Olympics?

Chloe Kim Is a New Kind of Olympic Hero