It's not often that a doughy sports Internet writer can directly relate to Olympic athletes. But after Team USA curling skip John Shuster was benched following three straight losses in which his final throw cost them the win in each match, I painfully empathized. It hearkens to the best athletic achievement of my life.
Back in 2003 I was skipping a curling team for Bowling Green State University. We played a regional tournament in Detroit, and out of seven teams that participated, we took pride in a third place finish. It wasn't the World Series, but the moment was unparalleled in my meager trophy case, because if my team ever won anything, I wasn't the captain.
The following year, my senior season, regionals were held at BGSU. Suffice to say, our butts were thoroughly lacerated as if every other team was full-blooded Canadian. I want to say we finished in sixth place out of 10 teams. It was probably worse than that, but most of it was because I was playing awful.
Nationals were a couple months away, and another gentleman named Matt, my roommate and vice-skip, was making some pretty good shots.
When Shuster was benched in the Olympics, alternate Chris Plys became the skip throwing third stones and vice-skip Jason Smith was promoted to fourth. This lineup change gave USA their first win of the Olympics over France on Friday. The next day Shuster was back in the lineup, skipping but throwing third. Fate was hellbent on putting Team USA in the exact same freaking situation, giving the Americans the hammer in an extra end, but this time it was cradled in Smith's hand. And wouldn't you know: coach Phill Drobnick was validated in his roster switcharoo: Smith's final shot was the difference in their 7-6 win over Sweden.
College Curling USA is not a staunchly competitive body. All one needs to enter is $30 and a mode of transportation to, in this case, Chicago. Still ... any kind of national tournament merits some brand of competition and determination. And that's why, prior to our decision to actually enter for national, I asked my roommate if he wanted to skip. We finished 2-1 in round robin play and lost the third place game, but it was close and competitive.