Shaun White poses with his Best Male Athlete of PyeongChang 2018 award at the ANOC Awards Ceremony on Nov. 28, 2018 in Tokyo.
TOKYO – Snowboarder Shaun White and the U.S. Olympic men’s curling team have more in common than you might think.
Sure, White is a flamboyant Californian while John Shuster and his teammates are even-keeled Midwesterners. White has a rock band. The curlers throw rocks.
But at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, they all had their backs against the wall. They faced make-or-break moments. And they emerged – White from the pipe and Team Shuster from the house – with historic gold medals.
On Wednesday, those performances were recognized by the Association of National Olympic Committees at the prestigious 2018 ANOC Awards.
White won Best Male Athlete of PyeongChang 2018 while Shuster, Tyler George, Matt Hamilton and John Landsteiner accepted the award for Best Male Team of PyeongChang 2018. Joe Polo, the fifth on the team, did not make the trip for the event, which was held in conjunction with the ANOC General Assembly.
“It’s been nine months since the Olympics and I’m still winning awards here, which is awesome,” White said. “It just shows what an amazing Olympics this was and makes me proud of my performance out there.”
White dramatically came from behind to stomp his third and final run and win the men’s halfpipe snowboarding competition.
He not only won an unprecedented third gold medal in halfpipe, he also won the 100th gold medal by Team USA at the Winter Games and redeemed himself after finishing fourth in Sochi.
“You know, it was heavy,” White said. “I obviously wanted it to happen and I was believing I could do it. I just had to do it still. That was the thing: I could see the run in my mind and I’d been in that position before. My back was against the wall with one run to go and I made it happen and the rest is history. That feeling, I’ll forever carry that with me and tonight is a testament to that as well.”
However, he added that being on the stage receiving the trophy “makes me want to go to more Olympics, honestly.”
(L-R) John Shuster, Tyler George, Matt Hamilton and John Landsteiner pose with their Best Male Team of PyeongChang 2018 award at the ANOC Awards Ceremony on Nov. 28, 2018 in Tokyo.
With skateboarding a new addition to the Olympic program, the 32-year-old is serious about vying for the 2020 Olympic team in the sport. He will also visit Beijing in a month to check out the halfpipe venue for the 2022 Winter Games.
“But we’ve got to wait and see,” he said.
Team Shuster, which is also eyeing Beijing, is the first U.S. curling squad to win an Olympic gold medal.
After upsetting defending champion Canada in the semifinals, Shuster’s team went up against top-ranked Sweden, which had defeated the Americans in the round-robin. Tied 5-5 after seven of 10 ends, Team USA scored five in the eighth to break the game open, eventually winning 10-7.
“What makes a team great is the commitment to each other and to a dream,” said Shuster, whose award was introduced by United States Olympic Committee chair Larry Probst. “You can achieve dreams. Throughout the last four years, we committed to each other to try to achieve this (Olympic gold).”
Shuster assembled a self-described team of “rejects” to contend for his fourth Olympic team. None had been chosen by the U.S. high performance program at the time.
They stormed through the Olympic Trials, and then got hot in PyeongChang.
George said people identified with their story not just in the United States, but around the world.
“I think a big part of it is people see curling as kind of an everyman sport,” George said. “And it’s really easy to get behind an everyman. I think these four guys, five with our alternate, we kind of embodied that, a very workmanlike effort and a ‘Cinderella’ story at the same time. And winning in a sport that really isn’t seen on the world stage except for every four years, I think people really latch onto it when they get that opportunity.”
Curling has become increasingly popular programming on television, spurring more Americans to give it a try.
Shuster said the sport has been growing at the recreational level since the aftermath of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, and “the success of our team in winning a gold medal has maybe put us on a little bit of a bigger stage post-Olympics than we’ve ever been on.
“Our team is definitely using that platform to help curling clubs around our entire country which are forming and being built to foster that growth.”
Landsteiner is encouraged that interest didn’t wane over the summer. “The fact that people are still interested in coming back is really a good thing to see,” he said.
Hamilton said he has heard that the “learn to curl” slots are already booked through the year at some curling clubs.
“I can’t imagine that people are trying it and not interested in doing it (regularly), because I tried it and was hooked immediately.
“And it worked out for me,” Hamilton added.
But he said winning gold has been “a humbling experience. You realize what you’ve done and all the time and effort you’ve put in and all these people that now look up to you, like junior curlers and up-and-coming athletes. You carry yourself a little differently, trying to act like the role model you would expect a gold medalist to act like.
“It kind of almost helped me grow up a little bit. I was the most immature one of these guys and it kind of changed me for the better.”
Although the team was together on stage in Tokyo, they are no longer a quartet in the rink. George retired in May and he has been asked for his famous worn-out shoes for the United States Olympic Museum.
“They can have them for a while, but I’ll probably want them at some point,” George said.
Shuster added a player from his club, 2010 Olympian Chris Plys, to the roster, and Plys has made a smooth transition onto the team.
“Our goal as teammates is to continue to have some international success,” Shuster said. “We have now in our country probably six or eight teams that can compete for world medals and we haven’t had that for a long time.”