Thursday, February 13, 2014

Curlers Have Big Stones


This is a rerun. I originally published it in April of 2006 when I had about 20 truly loyal readers. If you're one of that group, God bless you (and go have your head examined.)

The subject matter is the game played on ice that Canadians adore. No, the other one. And since it is being played in the now-current Winter Olympics - and since people seem to either love the sport or find it (as my good buddy, Robbie Costello, put it) as entertaining as watching hernia surgery - I figure there may never be a better time to put this piece in your eye again.

(Even if I hadn't decided to tell you this was a rerun, I'd be willing to bet most of you would have figured it out from the first sentence. See if you agree. Here comes the old stuff!)






Last night, MY WIFE and I went to the 2006 World Mens Curling Championship at the Tsongas Arena in Lowell, Massachusetts.

I'll give you a chance to let that sink in and then give you the opportunity to crack a few jokes about watching paint dry. Go ahead. I'll wait.

(*taps foot, while whistling tunelessly*)

Ready to go on now? Good.

We really like this sport. Really. Yes, it's a bit like shuffleboard on ice (actually, I'd say billiards on ice is a more apt comparison) but there is athletic skill involved, as well as deep strategy. You need a keen eye, flexibility, strong nerves, coordination and, above all, you can't be susceptible to chilblains.

(*rim shot*)

Thank you. I'll be here through Sunday, eh?

********************************************************************

It's almost impossible not to make curling jokes. Even someone who really - really! - likes the sport, and admires the athletes involved, can see the absurdity of sliding big hunks of granite down a sheet of ice while two guys run along in front of the rock feverishly pushing brooms.

(I wonder if janitors would make really good curlers?)

There actually is a point to that sweeping, you know. If you sweep hard enough, it accomplishes two things. First, the stone will travel farther. Second, it will continue toward the target in a straighter line than if you didn't sweep.

And it keeps the ice tidy.

**********************************************************************

We arrived at the venue a couple of hours before the start of the matches. We wanted to grab something to eat and then take a look around. This was the first time either of us had ever seen a live curling match, so we wanted a chance to soak in whatever atmosphere might have been available.

(It was mostly the smell of Molson's. Ha-CHAH!)

Just outside of the arena there was a hospitality tent set up. It was called "The Rock Garden" and there were a number of food vendors, as well as folks selling curling-related merchandise. Aside from the usual souvenir-type items (coffee mugs, hats, pins, etc.) there was one vendor selling curling jewelry.

Yup. Curling jewelry. The stuff was actually quite pretty. Stick pins, earrings, necklaces and all the rest, in the shape of brooms. There was an 18ct. gold and diamond brooch in the shape of a curling stone. Goes for about $4,000.

You think I'm kidding? Check it out.

You could also buy all sorts of curling apparel, from casual wear for the fan - turtlenecks, polo shirts and t-shirts, emblazoned in your country's colors - to things meant to be worn in competition, such as special sliding shoes and rubber pads to put on your shoes so that they won't slide. About the only thing you couldn't buy was an actual competition stone, but that's probably only because the damned things weigh 42 pounds, so how in hell would you carry it around with you all night and then get it home to Finland after the matches?

Yes, the stones weigh 42 pounds. Not so much like shuffleboard-on-ice now, is it, tough guy? More like tenpin-bowling-on-ice. So there!

***********************************************************************

I'm being way too snotty for someone who really (really) likes this sport. It's not at all fair to the people involved. And from what I saw last night, this sport is followed by some of the nicest people on the planet. Everybody roots hard for their team, but everybody also gives a fair round of applause to the opposition and nobody taunts anyone except in a polite way. For example, during last night's USA vs. Canada match, there was one woman holding up a pro-USA sign. You know what it said? "U.S. - Eh?" It got a big laugh from both the Canadian and American fans.

There is also no "in your face" crap from the athletes themselves. As a matter of fact, they are the least demonstrative bunch of competitors I've ever seen. And the fans never boo anybody.

Well, almost never. Last night, during a particularly tense point in the Sweden - Denmark match, one of the Swedish players slammed his broom on the concrete behind the rink, upset at his team having basically lost any shot at making the medals round. The sharp sound made by the handle of the broom striking the hard surface was followed by the sound of a gasp - a sharp intake of breath by many in the crowd - and then there was one lone "Booooooo!" from somewhere behind us. As many people turned to look at the fellow who was booing as were now looking at the Swedish kid who had slammed down his broom.

**********************************************************************

If you have any interest at all in the sport, I'd highly recommend getting out to see a match. As sports go, it's one of the easiest to watch. No matter where you're sitting in the arena, you can clearly see everything that's going on. The folks who follow it closely are very nice and will not belittle you in any way if you ask them a stupid question. They're more than willing to teach you about their passion, and will do so with a smile. All in all, it's a very agreeable night out.

And I guess that's it. I could rack my brain for something clever and snarky to end with, but I won't. It was fun and we enjoyed it. Bravo to the curlers. See you Monday.

***********************************************************************

Welcome back to 2014. I think the game isn't likely to have a big breakthrough in America this year. That's because the USA teams have been less than stunning. As I write this, the women are 0 and 4. The men are 1 and 3 (and, for my money, have seemed intent on killing themselves via poor shot selection, but this is from a guy who has never actually played the game and whose knowledge of the sport comes strictly from watching it, so that probably tells you the worth of my commentary.) If the teams were doing well, there'd be new curling centers popping up all over like mushrooms after a spring rain. Americans like winners. Only the truly weird want to be identified with a sport most people consider a bit odd and which we as a nation don't play very well.

Given the relative lack of curlers in this country, I now find myself able to entertain notions of taking up the sport and maybe making the Olympic team in 2018 or 2022. For that farfetched dream alone, curling is now my favorite sport at the Winter Olympics.

Soon, with more better stuff.

21 comments:

Barbara Shallue said...

I hope you try out! I'd love to finally know someone in the Olympics!

Buck said...

I'll watch if you make the team. Otherwise? (need I say more?)

Keep us informed of your progress.

Pat - Arkansas said...

Sounds like a civilized sport to me. Curl away, Sullie.

JudisJems said...

Jenn and I were watching the women of China and Russia a couple of days ago and trying to figure out the rules. Jenn wants to join a team in Phoenix (hee hee). Maybe you'll both be in the same Olympics (probably in the afterlife!)
Thanks for sharing.
Peace, Judi

Jenn Flynn-Shon said...

I'm all over joining a curling team! Let's do this, we can call it Cross Country Curlers or something. I figure its the only way I'm ever going to get to the Olympics. Of course I know even less than you and I only want to slide the rock, I don't want to have to run on ice while sweeping. We'd never medal because I'd fall over right out of the gate. Perhaps I should rethink this idea after all...

Jenn Flynn-Shon said...

I'm all over joining a curling team! Let's do this, we can call it Cross Country Curlers or something. I figure its the only way I'm ever going to get to the Olympics. Of course I know even less than you and I only want to slide the rock, I don't want to have to run on ice while sweeping. We'd never medal because I'd fall over right out of the gate. Perhaps I should rethink this idea after all...

Suldog said...

Jenn - If they have a mixed doubles team in 2018, it's you and me!

Suldog said...

USA loses to Russia today - very disappointing. They blew it. Russia is not very good, but they gave them too much.

Michelle H. said...

You are going to have a very clean home with all that practice. ;-)

messymimi said...

If i remember correctly, at the last Winter Olympics, one of the curling competitors was pregnant. Any game where you can compete while carrying a baby and which has nice fans is one for me to learn about.

Maggie May said...

Curling is a good sport to watch & right now we are watching the Winter Olympics held in Russia and Curling is frequently shown.
Quite like this type of sport!
Maggie x

Nuts in May

Magical Mystical MiMi said...

When I was a kid, younger than a teen, I remember curling came on the only Canadian channel we could get back then and I was mesmerized by that sport! Today, not so much but it's still not my least favorite to watch, that would be golf!

Absolut Ruiness said...

I'm scheduled to go into labour in the near future (day or two). That will put my head in the proximity of a hospital soon. I plan to take full advantage of that.

lime said...

i think it looks like hella fun fr totally crazy people who have had their brains frozen by a harsh winter.....in other words, given the chance i would totally play this game.

Practical Parsimony said...

Curling competitions and lessons are held in Birmingham, AL. I was certainly surprised.

Daryl said...

did tell you about one of my favorite movies .. Men with Brooms .. check out NetFlx for it

Chris said...

The humor potential of this sport is boundless, I'm sure. I'd love to go to a match but I doubt Southern California would be much of a curling hotbed (coldbed?).

Just goes to show that if you live somewhere that gets temps in the low to mid 0's, you'll come up with almost anything to keep your mind occupied.

Jenny Woolf said...

What's that team everyone loves at the winter olympics? the Jamaican bobsledders I think it is. Good on all hot-weather cold-weather sportsmen! :)

Mariann said...

I love Curling. It's like icy lawn darts...withou the sharp edges and grass...and, well, it's nothing like lawn darts...but still. AND...I just found a logical blog which describes how they score the damned thing as I was clueless. Nice broach, btw. Seriously, it's pretty. :)

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip, said...

Okay... I'm here.
Everything I've had to say about Curling is on Facebook.
In fact that's it seems most of the fun is at the moment.

Hilary said...

Nobody was more surprised than I when I found myself enjoying curling at the last winter Olympics. I'll actually watch and enjoy it along with Olympic hockey. Amazing, eh? ;)