Sleep Deprivation, Cheers, and Tears

By Carol Heath

After 19 days the 2018 Winter Olympics is over, and I hope I can go back to my regular sleeping habits. Yeap, I was one of those people who actually stayed up and watched most events live. I didn't want to read about them on my computer or the news. For a sports junkie like me the Olympics, summer or winter, is a plethora of show-stopping, hold your breath, fist pumping, cheers and tears events on display. It is an opportunity to watch the best of the best from all over the world.

This winter Olympics, held in PyeongChang, South Korea, was circumscribed by politics from the very beginning. Regional rivalries North Korea, South Korea, Japan and China, neighbors with histories of uneasy relations to say the very least. And when South Korea accepted North Korea’s plea, and they all marched in the stadium at once under one Korean flag, the place went wild with cheers.

However, not all South Koreans were happy about the North Koreans being included as many witnessed some 200 plus anti-Pyongyang protesters outside the stadium. The protesters held South Korean, and United States flags in the air banged on drums, and held signs the read "Killer Kim Yong Chol go to hell.”

And let's not forget the Russians or I should say Olympic Athletes from Russia as they dubbed themselves. This is still a mystery to me as I thoughts they were banned for doping after the 2014 Sochi Games after a bunch of them tested positive for drugs. I also don't get that 2 of the Russian athletes tested positive for drugs this time and the IOC refused to reinstate the team. So, BFD, pardon my French, but they still competed, they still won medals, it is BS. (Thank God for acronyms.) 

There were moments that I would never forget, like Chloe Kim, the 17-year-old phenom who became the youngest snowboarder to win a gold medal; Shaun White winning his 3rd gold medal; watching in almost disbelief that our figure skaters did not win one medal; Johnny Weir's  hair straight out of The Hunger Games. The two events I will always remember  are The U.S. Women's Hockey team winning gold and our first gold medal in curling. 

Let’s talk about the hockey team first. That was by far the most emotional ending of any event in the 2018 Winter Olympics. Some of those women remember watching the 1998 Olympics where the women’s hockey team won gold, most of them were barely out of diapers. They also remember the losses our previous women's hockey teams experienced, some of them were on the 2014 team that lost. They were the "always a bridesmaid, never a bride team."  Not this year, this was the year the United States Women's Hockey team kicked some major booty and won the gold medal. It was approximately  2 a.m. for me, and I was watching the gold medal game between Canada and the United States. I watched as the first period came to an end with a power-play goal by Hillary Knight with 25 seconds left on the clock. U.S. 1, Canada 0. A fist pump from me and my heart started beating a little faster.

 

The second-period things got a little more intense, as Canada scored two goals and we didn't score any. Canada 2, U.S. 1. My heart was beating a little faster talking to the television now cheering them on. The third period is coming to an end; there were only 35.5 seconds left on the clock when Monique Lamoureux with a breakaway lets one go... SHE SCORES!  Score one for the red, white, and blue, it’s 2-2, and we’re going into sudden death overtime. The momentum was on the U.S.; they were willing themselves to win. Regulation overtime ends in a tie, next up a shoot-out, my stomach is in knots, my mouth is dry, and an elephant is sitting on my chest.

 

Canada gets to shoot first; Spooner against Rooney, Rooney stops it. Next shot for U.S. and Gigi Marvin scores for the United States, it’s is 3-2. Canada sneaks a side shot by Rooney as Meghan Agosta scores. Score 3-3, am I going to make it through this damn game? U.S.’ Hannah Brandt is stopped by Szabados. Argh, score still 3-3. The U. S. goalie, Rooney stops Marie-Philip Poulin shot. Emily Pfalzer tries a backhand at Canada’s Szabados, but she blocks it. Canada’s Daoust makes an incredible inside, outside, backhand with one hand on the stick shot and scores one for Canada. Score Canada 4, U.S. 3. We have to make this next shot to tie again, or we are dead. Kessel for the U.S. shots, she scores. 4-4  - now and this is torture,

But this is why we watch sports so we can agonize every gut-wrenching moment, that's what makes winning so sweet and losing so yukkie. Canada lets one fly, but it goes off the leg pad of Rooney.  Still tied 4-4. Jocelyne Lamoureux, Monique’s twin sister, comes down the ice and jukes to the left, now to the right, and then shoots one between the legs of Canadian goalie Szabados and scores. The U.S. is now up by 1. You could feel it coming through the tv; you just knew they were going to make that shot. Jocelyne does a fist pump and a leg raise at the same time, she is pumped. All we have to do is block the next shot, and we will win.  

Madeline ‘Maddie’ Rooney, age 20, arguably the shortest member of the U.S. Women’s Hockey team at 5 foot 5 inches, weighing 146 pounds, from the University of Minnesota Duluth, is ready. She takes her stance; nothing is getting by her. She stands defiantly protecting her net, and the hopes of the United States rests on her shoulders. Agosta shoots for Canada, and Rooney smothers it with her glove. U.S. wins it’s gold for the USA. Gold for the first time since the Nagano Games in 1998.

 

Rooney throws her gloves in the air followed by her face mask and skates to the middle of the ice and disappears in a circle of US women. Sticks are flying, gloves are flying, and the celebration begins. We, the women of the United States won! It was electrifying. The tears that streamed down my face at approximately four a. m., all alone in my bedroom were of pure joy and pride.

 

Now for a change of pace, let's talk curling. It seems like this sport has definitely come into its' own, thanks to 4 of the most unassuming guys you’d ever want to meet. There's Skip, that's what the call the Captain of the team, John Shuster, father of 2 of the cutest little boys, who works at Dick's Sporting Goods when he isn't curling. John was also a 3-time former Olympian and won a bronze medal at the 2006 Turin Games. But with 9th place finish and a 10th place finish at the last Olympics, John's curling Olympics seemed to be over, in fact, the US Curling  folk actually hinted that he should retire.

 

John kept plugging away practicing every day in hopes that he may make the curling team for the 2018 Olympics. He tried out and didn't make the cut, so he did the next best thing. He went out and got 3 of the best curlers he could find. He didn't have to go far as the majority of them were curlers at his curling club in Minnesota known as the Duluth Curling Club. This gang of ‘didn't qualifiers' were one man short so they started  recruiting a guy from Wisconsin, who sported the best mustache you would ever want to see. And now they were 4; John dubbed them ‘The Rejects.

After many round robin games, the team that had originally been picked to represent the US in curling were not the most illustrious group of winners. In fact, to put it mildly, they sucked, but never fear because The  Rejects were near, biding their time before they finally qualified for the 2018 Olympics. These four ordinary guys would go on to make Olympic history. But I don't want to jump the gun here; you need to meet the rest of the boys.

 

There’s Tyler George, who manages George’s Liquor in Duluth. It’s the place in the strip mall by the university, just behind Arby’s and next to that tanning place. John Landsteiner, almost did ‘t make the team because of work conflicts. He a project manager for an engineering company and didn’t feel right about leaving his job, so he actually stepped away for a couple of months from curling. John and the boys badgered, nagged, whatever it took to convince John he just had to play.

And to round out the 4, we have that fella from Wisconsin with the magnificent ‘stache, his name Matt Hamilton. Matt actually was on the mixed doubles team and played with his sister, Rebecca, but came in second to last. He wasn't daunted, however, as in an interview, he stated his goal at the  PyeongChang Games was to get more people back home to grow ‘staches like his. Now you’ve met the 2018 Olympic Curling Gold medal winners!

They began their road to the gold medal match with a rocky start and had to win four games in a row to play in the gold medal game. They were relaxed and loose as the game started, smiling confidently as they knew the worst they could do was a silver medal. The Rejects didn’t come to win silver; they had their eyes on gold.

We’re going to jump ahead here and take you to the 8th end with the score tied 5-5. The Skip delivered the hammer, or the final shot, knocking the Swedes 2 stones out of the circle to post a five spot. That shot will go down in Olympic history, hanging a shot like that is like hitting a grand slam home run in the World Series; it's legendary!

 

With the score 10-5 with two ends remaining, the game was essentially over. The Swedish team scored two more points, but The Rejects prevailed and won the gold medal, completing the humblest and honestly fun filled curling game in Olympic history. "This is the stuff that dreams are made of," I know you've heard that before, but never was it truer. I can bet that some Hollywood executive is chomping at the bit right this minute thinking this is a slam dunk and I want to produce this movie.

But until that movie is made you can find most of the rejects playing at the Duluth Curling Club, you know, it’s just right of Railroad Street, behind the movie theater.