When the U.S. men's Olympic curling team faced the media this week, it was obvious to everyone that they are a bunch of young, enthusiastic guys, eager to hit the ice. Well, young at heart at least.
The energy starts with John Shuster, the team's youthful skip. His childhood friend, Jason Smith, sits next to him, looking more like a hipster than a third on a curling team. Jeff Isaacson, the team's second, laughs like a kid throughout the press conference. Even the team's alternate, 22-year-old Chris Plys, could easily be mistaken for a cool, indie music artist.
And then there's John Benton. The guy they call Great Granddad, or GG for short. A veteran curler, he admits that he started curling years before any of his teammates were born. But he has the same kid-in-a-candy-shop enthusiasm as the rest of them.
"When I first learned that I was possibly the oldest member on the entire U.S. team, I got a lot of razzing. It's a real honor to be here after such a long career. I often turn to John and say, 'Have I said thank you enough?' It's been a great ride so far, being in a place where we're all realizing a dream that we had. It's a really special thing."
And while the rest of them may seem like frat brothers -- three of them live together, sleeping in bunk-beds, two of them are bartenders, two of them tweet, and one plays his acoustic guitar on the roof of the athlete's village -- they all respect the old guy. Shuster gives Benton a lot of the credit for the team coming together.
"John has helped us make the transition from young men playing in juniors in the lower ranks and developing into a pretty darn good men's curling team."
And it's that mutual respect across the board, from the young man maturing into a true team leader, to the "old" man inspiring and teaching them how to win, that could could help Team USA find the podium again.
The Vancouver Olympics and the medals race both finished in spectacular fashion for North Americans. The United States won 37 medals and Canada finished with 14 gold medals. Both are the best of these games and part of the greatest hauls ever at a Winter Olympics.
With one more perfect run down sliding's most difficult track, Steve Holcomb drove USA-1 to the Olympic gold medal in four-man bobsledding on Saturday, ending a 62-year drought for the Americans in the event.