Monday, February 22, 2010

I'd Rather Be Curling

This piece originally appeared back in April of 2006. What with the Winter Olympics happening, it's the only time I could possibly re-print it and have anyone even remotely interested in seeing it. I could wait another four years, but you might be dead by then. What good would that do either of us? So, as a service to you, I'm running it now.

Almost four years later and I still enjoy the sport of curling tremendously. I wish the U.S. teams were doing better, but expecting them to win these competitions is a little like rooting for a college football team to beat an NFL squad. Possible? Sure. Probable? Hardly. Anyone who saw the Canada - Great Britain match on Saturday, and who has even a rudimentary grasp of the sport, knows that those two teams are as far ahead of the rest of the field as Secretariat and Man O' War would be over a bunch of $2,500 claimers.

(I could have used a more accessible simile. I should offer a definition to make your life easier. A 'claimer' is a low-level thoroughbred racehorse, so called because, by virtue of being entered in a claiming race, anyone may buy said horse for the claiming price, which in this instance - $2,500 - is a low price, indeed, for a racehorse.)

(A good tip for writers aspiring to be a better writer than I am is the following: If you have to explain your simile, and especially if the explanation of your simile takes more words than the simile itself, it's a crummy simile. If you get nothing else out of this, I will at least have done you as much of a service as an oxpecker bird performs for a hippo.)

Anyway, here's...


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 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 inside 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 nice round of applause to the opposition and nobody taunts anyone, except in a good-natured 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.

Soon, with more better stuff.


Michelle H. said...

I have watched a bit of curling on television over the years. It does get a lot of flack from people who crack jokes about what type of wussy sport involves sweeping brooms. But I think it's entertaining, in a relaxing sort of way that builds up the tension at the end - like bowling.

Then again, there are people who can't get into that sport either.

Cricket said...

My favorite sort of curling involves curling my arm toward my mouth while holding some sort of tasty, possibly intoxicating, beverage. Not precisely a sport itself, but a fun addition to sports in general.

Don't Bug Me! said...

I am English, but I am also Canadian and I live in Canada. So, who do I cheer for? Well, at times like this I find out, deep down, my true nationality - Go Britain!!! I know, I know, the British curlers are all Scottish, but it is close enough for me.

Skip said...

The folks who denigrate curling are the same ones who put down bocce ball, petanque, lawn bowling and shuffleboard. They just don't appreciate real non-contact sports. They are the folks who go to ice fighting matches and are disappointed when a hockey game breaks out.
They probably don't know what a simile is either... even when explained.

Chris said...

"No matter where you are in the arena you can see everything that's going on."

I'm sitting in Southern California and the curling events are in Vancouver, and I somehow have the feeling that I can see "everything" that's going on with curling.

Nah, just kidding. I've watched a bit of it. Where do they get the tea kettles?

You beat my Olympic post by one day. Tune in tomorrow for my suggestion on how to make the Men's Figure Skating much more fun.

Daryl said...

You must rent Men With Brooms .. you will love it ..

Theresa said...

I always wondered if anyone really liked watching curling, other than the guy who's in charge of the "what games get to be in the Olympics this year".

Now I know.

Unknown said...

I have never seen an event live, but I do enjoy watching it on TV. I like what Skip said about ice fighting matches where fans get mad when a hockey game breaks out! I hate hockey for that very reason, more fighting than sport. Curling looks like it presents quite a challenge.

CiCi said...

Since we don't have TV, I haven't seen this sport. So this was a learning post. Thanks. Of course, I did enjoy your brand of snark.

Maggie May said...

As the stones are so heavy I feel that there is less chance of getting a bad back with bowls than curling.
Have you ever seen good old English bowlers..? And I'm not talking hats here.

Nuts in May

i beati said...

I find it fascinating , but this year's german woman talk about big ones !!I'd be testing

GreenJello said...

It's nice to find a fellow curling-lover. :)

Buck said...

I wanna know who's responsible for changing the scoring roundels from the traditional blue-white-red to green-white-blue. Somehow or other I have this feeling al-Gore or someone very like him is the culprit.

Or mebbe it was someone who favors ice fighting as a sport (stuff it, Skip).

IT (aka Ivan Toblog) said...

Seems to me that the brooms have been upgraded since I last paid attention to the game?

Maggie May's comment about bowlers reminded me of a slightly off color song:

A ring dang doo now what is that?
It's round and firm like a bowler hat.
It's good for me and good for you.
It's what they call a ring dang doo.

That's only the refrain. I'm sure if someone were to Google Ring Dang Doo, they could find the more colorful lyrics.

Kathryn Magendie said...

Hey -- I'm not restricting the calendar to just women - any writer/poet!

If you want to volunteer, just pick a month -- :-)

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip said...

@ Buck, I think you misunderstood me. I go in hopes of seeing a hockey game.
But I digress. Curling is more my speed... don't have to try to balance on skinny rails, can even get on all fours if necessary and don't have get out of breath or tired because of running around chasing stuff.

Anonymous said...

I don't know which impresses me the most -- that you are a true FAN of curling (the first I have actually "known"), or that you managed to wring not one but TWO posts out of your love of it! ;)

btw, when I was growing up, my parents used to watch bowling on TV -- another very polite sport.

I did very much enjoy this post, AND all the interesting comments!

Hilary said...

Despite being Canadian, eh, I watched.. really watched curling last night for the first time (Canada vs China) and found to my surprise that I didn't hate it. I spent about a half hour popping emails back and forth with Frank so that he could explain some of the game facts to me. Of course I jinxed them. We lost. Had we won, we'd have so far had a clean sweep. ;)

Jackie said...

Is a simile "like" a smile...or is it "as" interesting as a 'Beautiful Blogger' award.
(Just thinking out loud.)
I had no idea what curling was...except that I do (doing/have done/will do) it to my hair. Interesting blog on curling....really.
Smiles to you, Jim.

Angela Christensen said...

As southerners, we are always baffled by curling, but there is a general family consensus that it IS actually sort of relaxing to watch, and I gotta tell you, it's better than ice dancing.

And regardless of personal opinions about curling or anything else, it is purely so much FUN to read your blog. At the risk of standing too long on my soap box, I repeat: there are some damned good writers here in blogland, and you're one of 'em.

Craig said...

For a second there, I thought you'd be regaling us with stories of weightlifting - you know, the kind to build impressive-looking biceps. . .

All I really know about curling (the ice kind, with the 42-lb stones) (which, in Britain, is like saying 3-stone stones, isn't it?), is what I've seen in the movies. Like Help! And I think one of the James Bond films, too. . .

Anonymous said...

I just keep waiting to see one of the sweepers accidentally touch one of the stones.

I can just imagine the curler killing the sweeper in a bloody mess.

I think I've been reading too much Otin lately.


Saz said...

love watching the hurling of the curling

saz x

Anonymous said...

This piece was as quietly civil and enthusiastic as are the players of that strange game. I tend to let sport of any kind pass me by but am quite happy to relax and watch a game of curling; there is no shouting, swearing, yelling-no violence or rage but a whole lot of skill, and the broom wielders are funny.

♥ Braja said...

I was just fascinated with the intro; your magnanimity is breathtaking.

If only I knew what curling was.

I'll come back in 4 years and check. Unless I'm dead....

lime said...

since i read and commented on the original all i have to say at this time is....

oxpecker *snort*

(why yes, i do have the sense of humor of the average 12 year old boy. thank you for noticing. i call my inner 12 y.o.b. jeff)

Jeni said...

As always, an interesting and educational post - with only a smidgen of snark thrown in to make it a little more interesting. I confess that I have never watched a curling match as I don't understand the sport at all. Not that the educational portion of your post was lacking, just that I need a whole lot more of the educational stuff before I understand stuff -in almost everything. But I'm glad you didn't wait four years to write this odds are I will probably be dead then.

Buck said...

Skip said: "@ Buck, I think you misunderstood me. I go in hopes of seeing a hockey game."

I did misunderstand and I apologize.

Shrinky said...

You sure do have wide and varied tastes, my friend! As it happens, this is quite a popular sport in Scotland, and (although I will deny it strenususly to anyone who asks) I have even been known to (rather badly, and only once) curl, way back in my own mis-spent youth.

It's a fun game, even more so if you imbibe a few whisky chasers first..

Unknown said...

I have an old friend who used to curl. (Maybe he still does; I haven't talked to him in quite some time.) But I still have trouble not making fun of the sport. "Brooms" and "stones"? And "sweeping"? My mind always goes back to a Dave Barry column on the subject, and I can't stop laughing. :-)


Ananda girl said...

Poor hippos! A nice nasty name for a nasty bird. ha.

I have never seen curling. Well, other than on the tube. Looks fun though. I think Cricket's version is more to my ability. said...

I don't suppose many fights break out, unless of course the guy next to you falls asleep and bumps into you waking you up. Now that might just piss a fellow off.