Curlers try for Sochi: Team USA will decide its Winter Games fate in Germany this weekFour curlers with Duluth ties gathered at the Duluth Curling Club on Friday morning for one more practice before leaving for Germany to determine their Olympic fate.
By: Rick Weegman, Duluth News Tribune
Four curlers with Duluth ties gathered at the Duluth Curling Club on Friday morning for one more practice before leaving for Germany to determine their Olympic fate.
The quartet included a stay-at-home father of a newborn, a middle school science teacher, a newly employed Minnesota Duluth graduate and a college student taking the semester off to chase his dreams of becoming an Olympian.
By this time next week, the foursome will know if they will have qualified for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Skip John Shuster, Jeff Isaacson, Jared Zezel and John Landsteiner, winners of the recent U.S. Olympic Trials, are representing Team USA at the Olympic Qualification Event in Füssen, Germany. The U.S., which opens play today against the Czech Republic, must finish first or second in round-robin play against the Czechs, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Korea and New Zealand in order to qualify for Sochi.
“I think we have a good chance — everyone is throwing the rock pretty well,” said the 30-year-old Isaacson, the team’s vice skip and a science teacher at Gilbert Middle School. “If we play like we have all season, we’ll have a good chance.”
Isaacson was a member of Shuster’s rink at the 2010 Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, which finished a disappointing 10th. At that point, Isaacson said he was ready to turn curling into a recreational sport until Shuster asked him to come back two years ago.
“I was ready to move on and start the working thing, and just curl for fun,” said Isaacson, who earned a bachelor’s degree from Bemidji State and a master’s at Wisconsin-Superior. “I didn’t think I would be getting back for this round. It’s exciting to get to do this again.”
Shuster, 31, a former manager at Pickwick Restaurant in Duluth who took time away to stay home to help raise his 7-month-old son, Luke, is seeking a third Olympic berth. He was a member of Pete Fenson’s 2006 squad and then skipped the U.S. entrant four years later. This time, he beat Fenson head-to-head in a best-2-of-3 finals — including a decisive, never-seen-before 11-1, four-end victory in the third match — at last month’s Trials in Fargo, N.D.
“I feel like I’m the best I’ve ever been right now,” said Shuster, a UMD graduate. “To win our Trials and to do it in the fashion we did, gives us a lot of confidence going over to Germany.”
Based on a points system of finishes at the past two World Championships, the U.S. men missed automatic qualification by one point. Hence, this last-chance event.
For Shuster, it’s a chance to continue the strong tradition set by previous Northeastern Minnesota curlers.
“It’s probably the drive to try to become the best at something — try to win a world championship,” he said of continuing on the grueling circuit. “Growing up, we’d see (world champions) from the Range like Joe Roberts and Jerry Scott (both of Hibbing). Just the other day, Bob Nichols (of Superior) stopped by — and he’s a two-time world champion — and he was telling us about his runs.
“We’re so close. I think that’s what keeps driving us to get there.”
Like Shuster, who took a year off from college to try to qualify for his first Olympics, the 22-year-old Zezel is delaying his senior year at Bemidji State to give qualification a whirl.
“It’s almost like a business for me,” said Zezel, who attended UMD for two years before transferring. “Curling is always before school or anything else. I always made time for curling during school — curling is first for me, for sure. I love the game; it’s a passion.”
Landsteiner, 23, grew up curling at his home in Maple River, Minn., and came to UMD with an eye toward a civil engineering degree and furthering his curling career.
The recent college graduate and current project manager at Lake Superior Consulting in Duluth joined Shuster’s team in the summer of 2011. He says chemistry plays a crucial role in the rink’s success.
“It has to be working well in order to succeed,” he said. “Hopefully, we can keep it rolling in Germany and go to Russia.”