RACHEL┬áBLOUNT – StarTribune

Being an Olympian can open doors to lots of experiences, as John Shuster found out this summer. Shuster, the skip of the men’s curling team that will represent the United States in Vancouver, got to fulfill a longtime desire while training at the U.S. ski team’s new Center of Excellence in Park City, Utah.

Shuster, of Duluth, always wanted to try the aerial flips and twists done by freestyle skiers. He got to take an introductory course at the center, learning how to perfect those moves on a trampoline — and how to practice them by flying off a jump and landing in a pool of water. That diversion, and a short fishing trip in July, enlivened a summer that has been mostly business.

“I’m used to having time off in the summer, but not this year,” said Shuster, who returns to the Winter Games as a skip after earning a bronze medal in 2006 as part of Pete Fenson’s U.S. team. “We’re putting in a lot of work, individually and as a team.”

Shuster and Minnesota teammates Jason Smith, Jeff Isaacson and John Benton have convened for six on-ice camps since Memorial Day. The group has had several team-building sessions with a sports psychologist, and each has a workout program designed by U.S. Olympic Committee trainers. They are building core strength, endurance and flexibility through several sessions in the gym each week.

The trip to the Center of Excellence allowed them to work out alongside fellow Olympians, such as Alpine skiers Lindsey Vonn and Ted Ligety. This month, the curlers will spend eight days in Switzerland, where scrimmages against European teams will help refine their strategy. They will begin daily on-ice sessions shortly after Labor Day and open the season at an Ottawa tournament in mid-September.

The promise of what lies ahead has prevented a busy summer from feeling like a grind. “The thought of being an Olympian is still really exciting to me,” Shuster said. “That’s what drives me to work hard. We’re doing everything we can to be the best we can be by February.”

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