International ordeal for curlers

Team Shuster is shown at the World Curling Championships in Calgary, Alberta.

EVELETH — After a stressful 48 hours dealing with a false positive COVID-19 test at the Men’s World Championships in Calgary, Alberta, Men’s National Coach Phill Drobnick was relieved to be back on U.S. soil and happy with how Team Shuster dealt with things.

“There was a lot of adversity that we had to deal with’’ during that time, Drobnick said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “I was really proud of the guys for how they handled it.’’

He said later, “I felt the process could have been handled in a better way.’’

Despite a slow start in the “bubble’’ in Calgary, “I was just really impressed with how the team played. They dropped a couple games early in the week’’ but rallied to win five games in a row in the round robin.

“This team came out firing,’’ he said, and secured a playoff and a berth in the 2022 Olympics for Team USA.

Team Shuster was 10-3 after the round robin and “we felt we were in a great position to win a world championship,’’ Drobnick said. “We were in a great mindset. We were prepared to go out Saturday morning and play in the quarterfinal round against Switzerland.’’

The whole scenario of the World Championships changed quickly Friday night after the World Curling Federation announced that night (after the quarterfinal between Canada and Scotland) that there were three positive COVID-19 tests in the bubble. None of the three were playoff teams, Drobnick said.

After that, the entire field still in Calgary was tested and everyone was put into lockdown and quarantined to their hotel rooms.

Ironically, Team Shuster had already been tested at noon Friday in preparation for leaving the country after the World Championships ended. Drobnick said Team Shuster was all negative after the Friday test.

The teams were all tested Saturday morning and Team Shuster again came up all negative. However, around 1noon on Saturday, Team Shuster was informed one of its athletes had come up positive from the noon Friday test. A fourth competitor was also said to be positive, he added. Drobnick could not say who the Team Shuster curler was.

“At that point, the entire building went into lockdown,’’ Drobnick and Saturday’s games were postponed.

Drobnick and Team Shuster didn’t know how it could have possibly happened because of the health and safety protocols in place and that Shuster’s team had all been fully vaccinated.

Drobnick said a conference call was set up with the chief doctor and some hard questions were asked about the four athletes that were all asymptomatic.

They ultimately had to wait until the test results from Saturday morning came back. That happened Sunday morning when all of the tests were negative for every team, including the four athletes that tested positive on Friday.

At the same time, they were told one Team Shuster curler could not compete because he tested positive in the Friday test. Drobnick and Team Shuster continued to question that decision and appealed to Alberta Health to get a better understanding of why he couldn’t play.

The meeting started just 90 minutes before Team Shuster was to take on Switzerland in the second quarterfinal and it ended just 60 minutes before the game.

The Team Shuster curler was allowed to compete by Alberta Health because he tested positive, then negative and he was fully vaccinated, Drobnick stated. “It was safe for him to compete,’’ they determined.

It was not ruled a false positive even then, he added. That wasn’t stated until a World Curling Federation press release was issued on Monday.

With everything that was going on, “I believe our team was fully prepared to win a world championship,’’ Drobnick said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get the result we wanted to on Sunday.’’

Team Shuster ended up losing 7-6 to Switzerland on the last end on the last shot. “They were able to go out and have a great performance. We were just proud of the fact they were able to do that.’’

Going to Calgary, the goal was to win the World Championship and also earn an Olympic berth.

“I have no doubt the adversity this team dealt with will certainly make this team stronger going into next season,’’ Drobnick said. “It’s hard to say how it affected them’’ with the possibility of being quarantined in Canada for an extra two weeks.

They got behind right away against Switzerland, he added, but “I thought they were professional with the way they went out there.’’

There were lots of emotions and adversity at the time.

Team Shuster didn’t even know what their lineup was going to be until 40 minutes prior to game time. “I have no doubt the game would’ve looked different’’ if it had been played on Saturday, as originally scheduled. He doesn’t know if that would have changed outcome, but the look (now including masks) was certainly different.’’

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Up next for Drobnick is the Mixed Doubles World Championships in Scotland starting on May 15.

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