GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- U.S. skip John Shuster is having the best week of his curling life. On Monday, he and his team earned the U.S.'s first Olympic victory against Canada in men's curling. On Tuesday, he walked off the ice to chants of "MVP!" after playing lights out and shooting 97 percent against Switzerland. On Wednesday, in a must-win match against Great Britain, Shuster led his men to a dominant eight-end, 10-4 victory that got them through to the semifinal. But wait, there's more.
On Thursday night, he shot a team-high 91 percent and played the match hammer to beat the Canadians (yet again) in a tightly contested 5-3 victory that sent Team USA to its first gold-medal match in men's curling, against favorites Sweden on Saturday (1:35 a.m. ET).
Shuster is a four-time Olympian who won bronze at the 2006 Torino games as a member of Pete Fenson's team. He later split away to form his own squad, somewhat controversially, and proceeded to win three straight U.S. Olympic trials. Shuster is perhaps the most accomplished curler in U.S. history, but his track record in the Olympics has been riddled with frustration and disappointment, to the extent that his critics have coined "Shustering" to describe his Olympic struggles.
No longer. "I didn't want all my Olympic highlights to be of failure," Shuster said after the semifinal win, feeling vindicated.
The U.S had started the round robin 2-4 before reeling off three straight victories to qualify for the knockout round. They credit a change in strategy for their turnaround.
Vice-skip Tyler George spoke about the team's decision to play a bit more cautiously. "We talked about not getting ourselves into trouble when we didn't have the hammer [the final stone in an end]," he said. "We were giving up a lot of big ends by playing pretty aggressively through the middle of the ice when we didn't have the last shot. If you're not executing well, that's going to get you in a lot of trouble."
Said Shuster: "Knowing the work that we've done together and seeing my teammates be the best versions of themselves along with me being the best version of myself is really exhilarating."
Meanwhile, it was more misery in a heartbreaking day at the Olympics for the U.S.'s neighbors to the north. Canada, the three-time defending Olympic curling champions, looked nervous and tight throughout the match. They couldn't avoid the fate that befell the women's hockey team earlier in the day just a few hundred meters away in the Gangneung hockey center.
Shuster and his team watched the U.S. vs. Canada gold-medal game while they were practicing. "We were really inspired by the ladies' hockey team this afternoon," said U.S. alternate Joe Polo, who played with Shuster in Torino.
"It's definitely a good day for U.S. over Canada," added coach Phill Drobnick.
There's a real sense of unity on this team now that they're riding a wave, and the players say they're not nearly finished yet.
"We just told the skip we have a lot of faith in him," said U.S. fan favorite curler Matt Hamilton. "And he knows when we say that we really believe it. Look out, Sweden."