Hometown heroes: U.S. curlers, other Olympians with Northland ties celebrated at DECC
As U.S. men's curling team member and Duluth native Joe Polo put it: "We came home with a pretty cool little medal."
The Duluth-based, gold-medal-winning men's curling team, along with other Duluth and Northland residents with ties to the recently-concluded 2018 Winter Olympics — women's curling team members Aileen Geving and Cory Christensen, and cross-country ski coach and TV commentator Chad Salmela — were honored at the Lake Superior Ballroom at the DECC on Tuesday for their achievements in the 2018 Winter Olympics.
The community celebration, which drew hundreds of fans, friends and supporters to the DECC, also recognized members of the gold-medal-winning U.S. women's hockey team — Minnesota Duluth goaltender Maddie Rooney, former Bulldogs defenseman Sidney Morin and coach Robb Stauber, a Duluth native — who remain on tour after helping the team win its first Olympic gold medal in 20 years.
The curlers entered the room accompanied by bagpipes, through a long tunnel of fans holding curling brooms and roaring "U.S.A." chants. Once they made it to the stage, emcee for the night Tom Hansen introduced the athletes as each provided comments on their experience.
"The Olympics were great and all, but this (event) is way cooler than the Olympics," curler John Landsteiner said. "I'm proud to be a Duluth resident."
In addition to Polo and Landsteiner, the U.S. men's curling team — the first American curlers to win Olympic gold — includes Tyler George of Duluth, skip John Shuster, a Chisholm native now living in Superior, and Matt Hamilton of McFarland, Wis. They're coached by Phill Drobnick of Eveleth.
Tuesday's celebration was just the latest stop in a whirlwind few days for the curlers. After winning the gold medal on Saturday by beating Sweden, they faced an immediate wave of media requests and attention from across the country and around the world. They attended the closing ceremonies on Sunday, then flew home, arriving to a cheering crowd at the Duluth International Airport on Monday night.
Arlette DeGrio, director of junior curling at the Duluth Curling Club — home base for the U.S. team — said the team's success in South Korea already has increased local interest in the sport.
"For them to get this far and see the attention from the world has been an incredible experience," DeGrio said. "I can't imagine the amount of hours each of them put in to get to where they are now."
Duluth Mayor Emily Larson commended the team for their success and for representing the city as well as the country.
"It wasn't just that you won, but how you won," Larson said during the program. "It is a beautiful and amazing story."
The program closed with Larson and Superior Mayor Jim Paine presenting keys to each city. They also proclaimed Tuesday — Feb. 27, 2018 — as "Gold Medal Day" in the Twin Ports.