The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 31, 2013

Landsteiner is sweeping his way TO SOCHI

Mapleton native to curl in Winter Olympics

By Shane Frederick sfrederick@mankatofreepress.com
The Mankato Free Press

---- — John Landsteiner was just starting to consider scaling back the time he spent on the curling rink.

He had a successful junior career in the sport, playing in national and international events, traveling around the U.S. as well as to Canada and Scotland. As a student at the University of Minnesota Duluth, he was curling three nights a week in the winter months.

But it was time to get on with real life, he figured. He was wrapping up his studies at the UMD and looking to start a career in civil engineering.

“I was thinking about getting a job,” Landsteiner said.

But then he got a call. John Schuster, a veteran of two Olympic curling teams, asked Landsteiner to join his team to compete in money tournaments and take a run at national titles. If things went well, the World Championships, the Olympic Trials and maybe even the Olympics would be in the team’s sights.

Instead of backing off, Landsteiner ramped it up.

To paraphrase a common curling call, Landsteiner, 23, was hurrying hard – all the way to Russia.

In February, the Mapleton native and Heather Curling Club member will indeed compete in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He’s the lead for the U.S. team, which includes three other Minnesotans: Schuster, of Duluth; Jeff Isaacson of Gilbert; and Jared Zezel of Hibbing.

Schuster, the team’s captain — known as the “skip” — will be playing in his third straight Olympics. Four years ago, he was the skip for the Americans, and eight years ago he was a member of the bronze medal-winning U.S. team.

“To represent 350 million people is pretty awesome,” Landsteiner said. “I’m trying not to let that get in my head. There are some nerves, but we’ll just take it one game at a time.”

That was the team’s approach to qualify for Sochi.

The Schuster rink — as a curling team is called — won the Olympic Trials in Fargo, N.D., in November, but that did not get them into the Winter Games.

The group had to go to Germany three weeks later for an Olympic Qualifier. The top two of eight teams at that event would get the remaining spots in the Olympic field.

“Pressure? Just getting through, there was pressure,” Landsteiner said. “We knew our chances were good, but everybody was playing for their hopes and dreams.”

The Americans lost their first game and later faced five elimination games in a row before clinching the second Olympic spot.

“I thought we improved game by game, shot by shot,” Landsteiner said.

Landsteiner has been curling longer than he can remember. A lot of Wednesday nights were spent playing at the Heather Curling Club instead of attending religious classes at his church.”

“I missed a lot of catechism,” he said, “but they still confirmed me.”

Nowadays, he’s missing a lot of work, too. He got that job he was looking for, at Duluth’s Lake Superior Consulting. That company has been good about letting him pursue his own Olympic dream.

“They’ve been awesome,” he said.

Folks in Mapleton are excited as well. Landsteiner’s extended family surprised him on Saturday when they all showed up to a Christmas get-together wearing matching red T-shirts that honored his accomplishment. A banner is displayed in the yard outside his parents’ home.

Sweatshirts and T-shirt are being sold as a fundraiser to help send his parents, Cheryl and Steve, to Sochi (for more: www.jak-dtees.com).

Steve Landsteiner, a longtime curler, makes the ice at the Heather Curling Club, and John still has a key to the building.

“I love coming back here,” John said. “Everybody gets pretty excited. ... The support has bee pretty amazing.”

Landsteiner and his teammates leave today for Scotland where they will compete in the Perth Masters Bonspiel, an event that will include several Olympic teams. From there, they will go to Las Vegas to compete in the Continental Cup of Curling, an event similar to golf’s Ryder Cup that pits Team North America (U.S. and Canadian men and women) against Team World (teams from Great Britain, Norway, Sweden and Japan).

After that, it’s off to Russia.

The Games take place Feb. 7-23. Curling will be played Feb. 10-21.

“I don’t know if it’s really sunk in yet,” Landsteiner said.