DULUTH — A mob of hundreds crowded the Duluth International Airport Monday in anticipation of the arrival of the gold medal U.S. men’s curling team. Fans, friends and loved ones crowded the small airport for their chance to greet the most successful American curling team in history.
Members of USA Curling went around passing out enlarged posters of the team’s faces to the waiting fans that were mostly decked out in their patriotic red, white and blue. Camera crews and photographers lined the exit waiting for a glimpse of the team that captured the hearts of Minnesota and the United States.
After the team’s flight landed 20 minutes later than expected, the crowd began cheering at even regular passengers getting off the plane. As the moment everyone was anticipating drew near, chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” broke out to help welcome Team USA home.
The doors to the airport’s concourse opened one last time and out came the gold medalists to a deafening roar fit for champions. The crowd welcomed John Shuster, Tyler George, Matt Hamilton, John Landsteiner and Joe Polo with cheers you could hear from South Korea.
The men hugged friends and family and took photos with the excited fans. The crowd consisting of people of all ages were able to mingle with the curlers who, not even two weeks ago, were considered long shots to even medal in PyeongChang.
Near the back of the crowd, a large group of fans from Eveleth’s Curl Mesabi stood waiting for Team USA coach Phill Drobnick. Drobnick, not one to draw attention away from his team, exited the plane in sunglasses as he began to work his way through the crowd.
The fans of Drobnick came via a charter bus that departed Eveleth earlier in the day. Drobnick approached them like family, striking conversations with everyone around him as if he hadn’t been in South Korea for the greater part of the last month.
Drobnick, much like his athletes, was next in line to mingle with his fans and take photos with the Iron Rangers that came to see him. On the topic of the large crowd that came to see him and his team, Drobnick was elated.
“Seeing everyone here to support the team is just amazing,” Drobnick said. “The amount of support we’ve seen throughout our entire time at the Olympics is just stunning. These guys deserve all of this recognition here and the whole experience has just been a roller coaster of emotions for everybody.”
After eight draws, Team USA found themselves with a 2-4 record at the Games with a only a slim chance of making the medal round.
The improbable, however, did happen and the U.S. men pulled off five straight wins to capture the gold medal. Watching the turnaround unfold in person, Drobnick said he knew all along his team had what it took to turn things around and make things happen.
“I’m proud of this team for sure. They’ve been together for four years now and even though things started slow for them, you could tell things were changing when they picked up their first win after starting 2-4. Once they got in to the medal round, they were playing their ultimate level of curling. I call it their ‘flow.’ They certainly found that and weren’t going to lose.”
Coaching his second Olympics, Drobnick explained how different things were this time around as opposed to the 2010 Vancouver experience.
“Mentally and physically, this team was the best prepared team I’ve ever coached.” Shuster said. “They had this great level of trust between each other. They were able to believe in themselves and carry themselves through the games on that trust they built.
“John [Shuster] did some soul searching after the last Olympics and he went into these games not wanting anyone else to define him or his story. He wanted to be the one that defined his Olympic moment. He did that, and in the process, helped carry this team through quite a lot.”
With the 2018 Olympics behind him, Drobnick made sure to again mention the unbelievable amount of support he and his team received during their run.
“I just have to give thanks to everyone that rooted for us. My phone was blowing up for days. Every guy on this team appreciated every single text and every single message they got. We appreciate it all and we read every single piece of support that was sent our way. The curling community is tight knit as are the people from Curl Mesabi. They’re just phenomenal and it means the world to us all.”