GANGNEUNG, South Korea — This wasn’t supposed to be the scene on the second Saturday of the Olympics, when as many people have gone home as remain behind. And just because the team of curlers for the United States blew up their sport’s orb over the previous 48 hours, we can’t pretend — most of us, at least — that we suddenly know the terminology and strategy of this mesmerizing sport: “end” and “stone” and “house” and the like.
But man, wasn’t that an absolute blast? Saturday evening, a team — sorry, a “rink” — led by a man who had essentially been fired by his sport’s national governing body, followed one of the PyeongChang Olympics’s greatest upsets with another of the PyeongChang Olympics’s greatest upsets, this time for gold. If there’s a cover-of-the-magazine image, it’s of John Shuster — formerly banished, now embraced — pumping his right fist as the eighth end concluded, because he blasted open the game by delivering the stone that provided a 10-7 victory over heavily favored Sweden.
“I can’t tell you how un-nervous I was,” Shuster said. It seems like an unremarkable utterance. But that feeling in that moment, it represents the complete transformation of a man and a team and, they hope, a sport in the U.S.
Let’s not pretend this was the “Miracle on Ice” from 1980 in Lake Placid, and it’s not even as significant as the American gold in women’s hockey from two days earlier. All this happened in the middle of the night back home, and we can’t just declare, in one evening, that curling somehow unified a broken country.
But it can’t hurt, either.
“Curling really embodies what I think all of us hope that humanity can be,” Shuster said. “And that’s honestly caring for each other and really being compassionate to the people around you.”
Yep, it’s hyperbolic and hokey. But Shuster’s eyes were red when he said it. Who’s to strip a man of his genuine emotions?
So put aside the jokes about how many beers must be stashed at the end of each sheet of ice, and embrace Shuster’s story, a very Olympic story. The redemption he felt — and that’s what it was, not a stretch in any way — was pure and hard-earned. The Americans ended this Olympic tournament with five straight victories, and along the way became cult heroes. Mr. T, of all people, fired them up on Twitter. Dan Jansen, the American speedskater whose own story of redemption forever will rank among the best the Olympics can provide, added his support.