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Spotlight shines on U.S. curling

Americans win first Olympic medal

PINEROLO, Italy -- Here's most of the curling terms that I know: bonspiel, hammer, hog line, rock, bronze medal.

That last one is the most important. It pretty much ensures that more people will be learning more curling terms. And soon, too.

The best Olympic medals always are the unexpected ones. The U.S. men's curling team wasn't given any chance in this tournament. Curling usually is the domain of Norway, Sweden, Canada and Switzerland. But on Friday, four guys from Minnesota changed all that.

The Americans won their first Olympic curling medal, defeating Great Britain, 8-6. Their unlikely medal run has led to an ever-increasing TV audience back home. Among those planning to tune in on Friday was President Bush.

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"That's pretty special to hear that the president was watching a curling match," said team member John Shuster. "We couldn't pay him to say that. So it must be true."

Suddenly, these unassuming fellows from Bemidji, Chisholm and Cass Lake are hot, hot, hot. And curling is cool.

"We're getting a fabulous response on our Web site," said Shawn Rojeski. "We're getting e-mails from across the United States. We're getting them from people who don't live near a curling club. There are piles of them from people who are looking for a curling club."

The guys suddenly are so popular that Rojeski even received a marriage proposal over the Internet.

"We love the attention," said Shuster. "It's been very, very fun."

They won easily on Friday, never trailing. Despite the Olympic backdrop, the guys were as loose as could be. They were quick to smile and wave to the crowd. It was as if they were curling on league night back in Bemidji.

"At the end of the day, it's a team you can't come back against," said Warwick Smith of Great Britain.

In Bemidji, a party was planned at the curling club. Many of the townsfolk were to gather there for breakfast and to watch the game on TV. The Americans were well represented in the crowd in Pinerolo, too. There was a sizeable, enthusiastic group belting out cheers such as:

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"Jeepers, creepers, how'd you like those sweepers? Jeepers, creepers, how'd you like those guys?"

Well, it seemed to work at the time.

As for their post-game celebration, the curlers seemed at a loss. They had quite a few media obligations. After that, said Shuster, "We'll do whatever a medalist does, I guess."

Curling never has been wildly popular in the United States. Perhaps that will change. But for one day, at least, life was good at the top.

Tom Powers is a sports columnist with the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

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