- Associated Press - Friday, January 31, 2014

DULUTH, Minn. (AP) - Four regular guys from northern Minnesota are hoping for curling gold in Sochi.

They’ve been toiling far from the spotlight of more glamorous Olympic sports such as skiing or figure skating. They squeeze in practice whenever they can. They leave for Russia on Saturday and hope to erase memories of Team USA’s disastrous finish in Vancouver, Canada, four years ago, Minnesota Public Radio reported Friday (https://bit.ly/1aMIKad ).

“We don’t live at a training facility,” John Shuster said. “We all live our own lives. We come together on weekends and play, except that everyone’s practicing their butts off during the weeks when we’re not together.”

As the “skip” of Team USA, Shuster, 31, of Duluth, determines the group’s strategy. He’s making his third Olympic appearance. He won a bronze medal in 2006, but took a lot of heat for the team’s poor play in Vancouver, where they won only two of nine games.

In curling, teams alternate sliding heavy, polished granite stones down the ice, trying to stop them closest to the center of a target. Players sweep in front of the rock, which briefly heats up the ice and affects the rock’s velocity and path.

“We kind of call it chess on ice,” said teammate Jared Zezel, of Hibbing, a student at Bemidji State University, the team’s youngest member at 22.

To pay their way, the team pieces together modest tournament winnings with sponsorships, some funding from the U.S. Olympic Committee, and proceeds from selling Team USA gear online, as well as loans from family members.

Jeff Isaacson, of Virginia, Minn., who teaches junior high science, said balancing work and curling takes a toll.

“You never seem to get caught up, it seems,” Isaacson said. “Finally by Thursday, you think you’re there, and then you’re out the door again flying off to another event, come home tired. You gotta go teach the next day. It’s never ending, so it’s been a very tiring year trying to do both.”


Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, https://www.mprnews.org

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