An Olympic gold medalist who has ties to Columbus is once again representing Team USA at this year’s Winter Games.
John Landsteiner, who grew up in Minnesota, has a connection to Columbus through his wife Kelsey, who has family in the area.
Landsteiner was part of John Shuster’s 2018 team that won the first-ever Olympic gold medal in American curling history. He and Shuster are back in Beijing looking to make it two in a row.
“It was unforgettable,” Kelsey recalled. “…It was so much fun to watch. I was bawling my eyes out when they made the playoffs.
Curling is a sport in which competitors slide stones across a sheet of ice towards a target segmented into four circles. The team – made up of four players – can also ask their teammates to use brooms or brushes to dictate where the stone lands.
This is Landsteiner’s third time at the Olympics with Schuster. The two have competed together since 2011. The team first entered Olympic State in 2014, but after a poor outing the United States did not come close to a medal. Because of this, Schuster and Landsteiner almost did not participate in the next Olympics.
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The United States Curling Association held a combine to find the best curlers for its high performance program, intending to have better success at the Winter Games. However, Landsteiner and Schuster were dropped from the program, with Schuster later considering himself, “The Rejects”.
“The Rejects” didn’t give up, however, and the two Johns, along with Matt Hamilton and Tyler George, formed a new tag team. Eventually, they started competing in Canada where they saw some of the best competitors from around the world.
Dealing with this level of competition helped the team gain confidence ahead of qualifying for the 2018 Olympics.
“It was a totally different feeling than going to any other Olympics before because they walked out on the ice knowing, ‘We’ve beaten every one of these teams for the last two years,'” said Kelsey.
In an ending that sounds more like it was written in Hollywood, “The Rejects” qualified for Pyeonchang, South Korea. In a memorable race that captured the imagination of everyone at home, they came from behind to claim gold. The team lost four of its first six games and needed to win its next three to qualify for the playoffs.
It seemed like a long shot. USA’s next three opponents – Canada, Switzerland and Great Britain – were among the top four teams in the world. After catching Canada by two points, Team USA won against Switzerland and Great Britain.
The playoffs culminated when the United States won a rematch against Canada by two points before beating Sweden in the gold medal game by three.
“It was kind of like a miracle in itself,” said John’s aunt, Dee Humlicek, who works at Columbus Community Hospital. “We were all excited.”
Kelsey said curling still has little interest after the Olympics. It’s one of the few times the sport gets national attention. But after the most recent Games, curling has gained notoriety, she added.
It’s very popular in Minnesota, said Kelsey, who is a curler herself. It is a sport in some secondary schools that students can play, she added.
Kelsey and John met because of curling. In 2013, the two were on varsity club teams competing at a national curling meet in Duluth, Minnesota. John’s team won and, as usual, the winning team bought the losing team’s drinks. While enjoying the camaraderie afterwards, the two groups started talking — including Kelsey and John — and the rest is history.
“They killed us when we played them,” Kelsey said with a laugh. “…Later, they offered us drinks. We stayed to chat and that’s how we met.
John has been in the sport for over 20 years and first learned it when he was 8 years old. It was a family sport – his father and grandfather both curled.
“It was kind of a custom to follow your dad and grandfather to the curling club,” Kelsey said. “He eventually started and joined leagues and went to curling camps.”
Kelsey said that according to John’s mother, Cheri, the sport has helped her son “come out of his shell”. Before that, he was quiet, introverted and more reserved. Although still calmer, John has opened up more since he started curling, Kelsey added.
“He would go to different events and camps,” she said. “He met a lot of different curlers and some of them are his best friends today.”
The curling team began competing in the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022. On Wednesday, the defending gold medalists won a tight 6-5 match against ROC (Russian Olympic Committee). The team will face off against Sweden again on Thursday, a rematch of the 2018 final.
Andrew Kiser is a reporter for the Columbus Telegram. Contact him by email at [email protected]