February 18, 2010

The Luckiest Man In The World


John Shuster, US Curling Skip

I love the Winter Olympics for one reason and one reason alone - curling. For one thing, it's almost the only event with a truly level playing field, and I'm not just talking about the sheet of ice upon which it is played.

Too many other events are decided by the opinion of unseen judges. From figure skating to moguls racing to ski jumping, part of each competitor's score is a totally skewed "style factor" or some other form of wiggle room that takes those events out of having an indisputable victor.

Then there's the events like luge and speed skating, in which the difference between gold and silver might be as little as 0.001 of a second. While those events are races, the winner may not be the "best" at the actual event, but merely the one with the most wind-resistant equipment. Perhaps Shani Davis' gold medal should go to whomever Colbert Nation got to design his aerodynamic tights.

Which leaves pretty much curling, where every team has to use identical equipment in a true head-to-head, round robin competition to decide matters "on the field of play." But of course, in this country, there is no "National Curling League" paying its athletes millions of dollars. Very few people know the rules of curling, and as a result, it gets relegated to NBC's auxiliary channels. American curlers do their stuff in relative anonymity... which is why John Shuster is the luckiest man in the world.

The US men are now 0-3, and all but eliminated from medal contention with six matches left to go. And Shuster has performed way below expectations, and has missed three game-winning shots. But in all likelihood, you haven't heard about it. The highlight won't be shown on your local news. His name is not being plastered all over the newspapers and Buckner-ized in shame.

Shuster's performance at these Olympic Games are on the par with Scott Norwood and Jean Van de Velde. If a guy like Anthony Parker of the Cleveland Cavaliers missed buzzer-beaters in the first three games of the NBA Finals, he'd carry a scarlet letter with him that would have fans running him out of town. He'd be the butt of jokes from Letterman to Kimmel and all points in-between.

Shuster? He's got six games left. Not a lot of time for redemption, dear Skip - and yet, we're still pulling for you. U-S-A! U-S-A!

UPDATE: In the Thursday morning game against Denmark, Shuster missed the last shot AGAIN! USA is now the sole winless team in the competition.

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