How big was Team USA curling skip John Shuster early Saturday morning? So big that he was trending nationally on Twitter in two versions, the correctly spelled “Shuster” and the misspelled “Schuster.”
The hashtag #curling itself was even bigger. By 6 a.m. Eastern Time it was the No. 2 trending topic worldwide, behind only something written in Arabic not believed to be about curling. But by that point, it would not have been a surprise if it were.
Team USA’s upset of Sweden in the gold medal game in South Korea shook the curling world, just as it forced viewers to shake their heads periodically to stave off sleep.
When it ended with the United States’ first gold in the sport at about 4:15 a.m. Eastern (6:15 p.m. in Korea), more than 77,000 people were streaming the event through NBC’s Olympics website.
How many were watching on television on NBCSN? It ended so late that data will not be available until Sunday for the 3 to 4:15 a.m. ET portion of the telecast. But an average of 1.58 million viewers were watching from 1:30 to 3 a.m., a remarkable figure given the hour, the sport and the channel.
NBC covered the event with the trappings of an upset worthy of the moniker “Miracurl on Ice” it was given on social media. That includes cutaways to the celebration at the Duluth Curling Club, coverage of the national anthem ceremony and an in-studio group interview that ended with the quintet singing karaoke to an old Journey song.
NBCSN replayed the match starting at 9:30 a.m. Saturday and NBC was to do so at 3 p.m.
The American team had begun with a 2-4 record before finishing on a historic run.
The key moment against Sweden was a double takeout by Shuster in End 8 that gave the U.S. a 10-5 lead, prompting “U-S-A, U-S-A” chants from American fans in the arena.
“A few days ago, it was unlikely,” play-by-play man Jason Knapp said. “Now it is undeniable. The United States has won curling gold at the Olympics.”
Even before the gold medal game, prime time host Mike Tirico had set up the competition, which started at 1 a.m. ET, by calling it “The biggest night in U.S. curling history.
“People are coming out of the woodwork getting into curling and getting behind this team,” Tirico said. “This morning by phone, they got a pep talk from Mr. T. I pity the Swedes, who are the opponent in this matchup.”
Much, much later, NBC analyst Kevin Martin said, “I’ve never seen anything like this. This win means extreme growth for the sport of curling in the U.S. It will do wonders for the game.”