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Curling: Gold medalist returns to RCC

Olympic gold medalist John Landsteiner slides the rock down the ice at the Runestone Bonspiel at the RCC in Alexandria Saturday morning. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press) 1 / 2
John Landsteiner looks on while shouting directions for his sweepers on the other end of the ice on Saturday morning during the Runestone Bonspiel at the RCC in Alexandria. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)2 / 2

John Landsteiner was curling in a much more stressful environment 13 months ago than he was on Saturday morning.

The Olympic gold medalist returned to Alexandria with his wife and friends to take part in the Vikingland Curling Club's annual Runestone Bonspiel at the Runestone Community Center this past weekend. Since taking home gold with his USA teammates in 2018, Landsteiner's life is more hectic than ever.

"I guess it's changed in a way that people want to come up and talk to me and ask me questions. They want to welcome me back," Landsteiner said. "I'm just here to enjoy this Bonspiel with my friends, my wife and just have a good time."

The United States wasn't expected to win the tournament in Pyeongchang, South Korea. After finishing 2-4 in the round robin event, the odds were stacked against the Americans. After upsetting Canada in the semifinal round, Landsteiner and his teammates defeated top-ranked Sweden to earn the first curling gold medal in American history.

"I think people finally realize that curling is cool," Landsteiner said of the impact winning gold has had on the sport in the country. "For the longest time, I think it was this niche game that people played. Now everybody wants to come out and try it. They'll realize it's not that easy but it's really fun."

Four of the five members of the gold medal team were born in Minnesota. Landsteiner is from Mapleton and currently resides in Duluth.

"Many people say Duluth is the curling capital. The people there were so good to us when we came back," Landsteiner said. "I'm from Mapleton and I was just down there for an event. It went really great and the support from my hometown has been incredible. I'm really proud to have Minnesota represented at that level."

Making Olympic history is something that Landsteiner and his teammates will take with them long after their curling days are past them. The immediate excitement around the sport has opened up some opportunities in the limelight.

"It's a lot more attention," Landsteiner said. "I'm a pretty big introvert so it's something I've had to adjust to. I've gotten to be a part of the speaking opportunities our team has had. It's been great and I'm enjoying it."

The United States is already going back to work on repeating its success in Pyeongchang. They will go through this process without their vice skip from last season. Tyler George decided to retire on a high note. Replacing him will be Chris Plys, another Duluth native.

Landsteiner is taking things day by day. However, his team has its eyes set on Beijing.

"Right now we are going for the 2022 Olympics," Landsteiner said. "We just won the national championship a few weeks ago. Now we'll be playing for Worlds here in a few weeks. Just taking it one year at a time."