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Why This Could Be The Year Shuster Leads Men’s Curling Back To World Podium

By Stuart Lieberman | April 01, 2016, 8:50 p.m. (ET)

John Shuster (C), John Landsteiner (L) and Jared Zezel compete in the men's curling round-robin session against China at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Ice Cube Curling Center on Feb. 11, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

Growing up, before John Shuster was a three-time Olympian in curling, one of his favorite events was the “Shuster Rooster,” an intense curling competition with his family on Christmas that involved his mother, father and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins.

Family has been a long-standing anchor for Shuster, who now resides in Duluth, Minnesota, and is a part-time stay-at-home dad.

“A few days a week, I still stay home with the kids, which has really helped me become a better person, as I now have different perspective on what’s truly important in life,” he said. “Love, I never realized, existed in such a way until I became a parent with my amazing wife, Sara.

“Luke (almost 3) and Logan (7 months) are awesome kids.”

While family has made him a better person, Shuster, 33, is still working to improve his curling, too.

Although he’s won five U.S. championships and had success in his international curling career — most notably a 2006 Olympic bronze medal — the best moments on the ice for him outside of the United States came nearly a decade ago.

The U.S. men haven’t been on the world championships podium since 2007 or the Olympic podium since 2006, when it won its first-ever Olympic medal. It’s been a decade in which the entire world field has been getting trained and coached better each year, Shuster says.

The U.S. teams have certainly had their share of near misses, though. At the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, Shuster’s team was just three shots from being in the middle of the medal hunt, and the team lost tiebreakers to miss the playoffs at each of its last two world championships appearances.

It’s been the same story for a while now — always close, but no cigar.

Shuster is eager to change his fate on the international stage when the World Men’s Curling Championships begin on Saturday in Basel, Switzerland, where 12 countries will battle for the first qualification points for the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games.

And based on this season’s results, the team of Shuster, the skip, and Tyler George, Matt Hamilton and John Landsteiner could be on track to do just that.

It’s been an up season for the group, which has won three World Curling Tour events, made the semifinal of a Grand Slam and is now close to becoming the first U.S. team to finish a season in the top 10 World Curling Tour Order of Merit.

“I have extremely high expectations heading in,” Shuster said. “We are comfortable playing in these kind of events, especially since we’ve played in six big arena events in the last calendar year. One goal all season was to get the podium at the world championships, and I think we’re in a position to do just that.”

Now’s the perfect time to kick it up a notch, as curling in the United States has more public exposure than ever before. NBCSN is slated to show the men’s match against Canada on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. (EDT), adding to its already in-depth coverage of the sport, which included a weekly “Curling Night in America” telecast the last two seasons.

“I love growing our sport because we have such a great culture of camaraderie and community,” Shuster said of the coverage. “It’s a sport anyone can get into, and it has plenty of intrigue. I think the TV boom in the U.S. has to deal with how our country loves sports in general, and the fact we’re mic’d up allows people a more intimate look into the game and players, and I think fans eat that up.”

Shuster is optimistic that all of his team’s early season tournament successes will prove to be stepping stones to the world championships podium, because he would love nothing more than to kick back with his family this summer with a medal around his neck, all of them tuned into his other favorite sport on TV at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games.

“I think Olympic swimming is by far my favorite summer event to watch,” Shuster said. “It’s so much an individual sport, but there is so much team about it, too.

“I’ll still never forget watching the USA men edge France in the 4x100-meter relay (in 2008) as Jason Lezak gutted out that last 50 …  I think so many of us Olympians are so similar — tough competitors, perfectionists, strong personalities, willing to listen to criticism and always wanting to practice and work hard to be better tomorrow.”

Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.