The generically titled “Olympic Qualification Event” starts on Sunday. It’s going to put the final eight curling teams into the Olympics: two mixed doubles, three women’s, and two men’s. This is the third OQE in history; prior to that, it was all world championship rankings. The 2013 one featured eight men’s and seven women’s teams. Japan and China advanced through the women’s side and would go on to contend for medals but missed the playoffs by a single game.
The men’s side had a variety of talented teams, but one in particular stood out: the United States, skipped by John Shuster.
Being in this play-in tournament wasn’t his fault. In the previous two seasons, Shuster did not win his country’s title. The Heath McCormick and Brady Clark teams did that, and their finishes resulted in the country being the last team not to auto-qualify. But the goal in the OQE was simple: finish top three in the round robin, then win one game after that. Finish in the top two, and you get two whacks at it.
The round robin started off, shall we say, poorly for the USA. Opening against the Czech Republic, this was what Shuster was looking at in the third end with hammer:
That’s five yellow rocks, and they were certainly not yellow. All he could do was whip it hard and remove two stones to cut them down to a steal of three. They’d claw back and tie the game but lose 9-7. Then they responded with wins against New Zealand and France, then stumbled to Germany 8-7 after giving up a large three in the 10th.
The round robin through four games:
South Korea 4-0
New Zealand 2-2
Czech Republic 2-2
That was messy, to say the least. USA had Japan, South Korea and Finland left on their schedule. Without being able to see into the future, it was clear they would need every one of those. And this is John Shuster we’re talking about. Of course he won all of them—convincingly, too. That set up a four-way tie at 5-2 between Germany, Czech Republic, USA and South Korea.
After the tiebreaker abacus was consulted, USA and South Korea played a tiebreaker match to decide the third playoff team, which USA won 7-5.
Germany would razzle-dazzle the home crowd with a 7-4 win over the Czechs, leaving skip and entrepreneur Johnny Jahr to do the Usain Bolt victory pose, which he did about as well as you would expect a middle-aged German man could do.
This dropped Czech Republic to a winner-take-all game against the USA for the last trip to Sochi. The Czechs took a 3-2 advantage into the eighth end. But USA had hammer, and with Shuster’s first, he executed a double takeout (sound familiar?), though it wasn’t quite the call, nor was fortuitously ticking his shot stone under cover. “That was dirty,” Shuster mumbled under his breath, directly into his microphone for all of us to hear.
The final was made 8-5, securing their spot in the 2014 Olympics, which went poorly and continued Shuster’s circuitous route to glory. But it also stopped the Czech Republic from getting to the Olympics, which would’ve been their first time. Instead their debut will be in 2022, thanks to a Czech pair beating the Americans 8-6 in the Olympic Qualification Game of the 2021 World Mixed Doubles Curling Championship, making Zuzana Paulová and Tomáš Paul the first Czech Olympic curlers.
It took eight years but the script was done flipped, and that’s why the USA will be in the first-ever OQE for mixed doubles, with Vicky Persinger and Chris Plys trying to ensure the Americans continue their streak in qualifying for every modern Olympic curling event. If history is any indicator, scoring a five-ender will help the cause.