By Joanne C. Gerstner | April 17, 2019, 2:14 p.m. (ET)

(L-R) Cory Christensen and John Shuster smile for a photo.

 

When it comes to curling in the United States, John Shuster stands above the rest.

As a four-time Olympian (more than any other U.S. curler) and the skip for the defending Olympic champion men’s curling team, Shuster has a well-earned reputation for success and being a master strategist on the sheet. But before his team starts competing, and he executes his plotting, Shuster likes to set the right frame of mind.

“I remind the team to take a look around,” he said. “Like at the world championships, there are 5,000 people in the arena. Look where we are — we get to play a silly game, one we started playing as kids. Now we are adults and get to play a sport for a living. We are playing a game that we started out playing by ourselves half the time, with maybe 10 people watching us back then.

“Always keep perspective. We are the luckiest people in the world.”

That perspective has helped drive Shuster, even as he’s already accomplished more in the sport than most could ever dream of.

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Having started the sport as a kid growing up in northern Minnesota, Shuster turned curling from a passion to his profession. Over the years he’s won seven U.S. championships and a world bronze medal, in addition to his historic Olympic gold and bronze medals. (In 2006 Shuster was part of skip Pete Fenson’s team, which earned the nation’s first Olympic curling medal. In 2018 Team Shuster won the country’s first Olympic curling gold medal). Just this month, Shuster led his men’s team to the world championships in Lethbridge, Alberta — Shuster’s eighth trip to that event.

Now he’s adding another first.

In March, he teamed with Cory Christensen to win their first U.S. mixed doubles championship, a victory that sent the team on to Norway for their respective debuts at the World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship, held April 20-27 in the city of Stavanger.

It’s another opportunity in the sport that he’s embracing.

“I’ve always enjoyed playing with Cory, because I’ve known her for a long time,” said Shuster, who like Christensen is a member of the Duluth Curling Club in Minnesota. “I’ve seen her playing since she was like 15, 16 years old. We have like a mentor-rising star relationship, and now she’s grown into a big-time competitor.”

Shuster is 36, while Christensen is 25. They’ve developed a strong chemistry on the ice.

“We’ve learned how to play together over the years: I take care of the strategy stuff, and she just goes out there and makes the shots,” Shuster said. “She can just plain make everything out there. I never worry. She’s got us.”

Although both focus primarily on their four-person teams, they have experience playing together in the mixed format. Shuster and Christensen took second in the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, just missing out on competing at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. The mixed doubles event was added as a medal sport for the 2018 Games, and the sibling team of Matt and Rebecca Hamilton represented the U.S.

“That did hurt, just missing out, but we’ve kept going and getting better as a mixed team,” Shuster said.

They’ll have a chance to show that beginning this weekend. Stavanger will also offer Shuster an opportunity to build on his performance from the men’s world championships, where his team took fifth. Although they fell short of the medal stand one year after their historic gold in PyeongChang, Shuster said he and his teammates were proud of their performance in Lethbridge.

“Where we placed does not dictate how well we played,” said Shuster, whose 2019 team featured three of the four curlers from the 2018 Olympic team. “It was an extremely tough worlds. The teams at the top were top-ranked coming in. I was extremely happy with the team, we had a really good week.

“We understand that this was our first season together, and that the worlds finish doesn’t change anything. We knew what we had going in as a team, and we’re happy.”

Shuster, since the 2018 Olympic triumph, has seen how his profile — and the sport of curling — has been elevated. He has picked up speaking engagements and a few endorsements, plus people recognize him outside of the rink. He knows he has a moment to spread curling’s fame, and he said he tries to use his platform to promote the sport.

He has visited curling clubs in several states, shaking hands, signing autographs and taking selfies with fans. Shuster made a conscious shift in his thinking a few years back, choosing to fully embrace every moment and be present.

“Since 2006, when we had our introduction to the world when we stepped on the ice, it’s been really important to me to represent the sport well,” Shuster said, referencing the Torino Games, where he won bronze on Fenson’s team.

“But I went further since then, really forcing myself to remember enjoy the moment and translate the true spirit of sport. I think that is what people are responding to: We have fun. We are showing joy. We are very serious about what we do; I am very serious out there.

“But in the end, it is a game, and it is something I get the privilege to do for a living. You can’t get luckier than that.”

Joanne C. Gerstner has covered two Olympic Games and writes regularly for the New York Times and other outlets about sports. She has written for TeamUSA.org since 2009 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.