It may look weird, but it's the coolest game in Turin
Posted: Friday February 10, 2006 2:23PM; Updated: Saturday February 11, 2006 1:11PM
Olympic curling combines comfortable trousers, teamwork and strategy at a world-class level.
It gets mocked more than Michael Jackson. It doesn't involve the defiance of death, nor does it provide photo finishes. Neither you nor anyone you know has probably ever taken part in it. The rulebook is only slightly less arcane than the rules of Presidential succession.
It's curling, and it's the one event I want to see at these Games.
Curling is that rare sport played at a world-class level by people who look like you, me and your Uncle Dave. I've skied, I've skated, I've gone down a hill on a sled (not quite skeleton, but close enough) -- and, like most people, a successful outing for me in any of those endeavors is one that doesn't end with a nasty butt bruise or a ski pole through the thorax.
Most people can never begin to relate to what it really feels like to be in Bode Miller's state-of-the-art boots. On the other hand, picturing yourself in the comfortable trousers favored by curlers doesn't exactly require a Thurber-esque imagination. I've done some curling, and while I'm not saying it's easy to do at a world-class level, it doesn't require a freakish set of innate physical skills or an unnatural disregard for the threat of grievous bodily harm.
It's not beyond the realm of possibility for a dude like me to curl his way to fame and fortune (at least in Minnesota). My third-ever stone landed square on the button, right in the house. (Those are actual terms, by the way.) And I was blotto at the time.
That brings us to the second reason why I'm sold on curling: The sport's community is a fantastically fun bunch. I did a story a few years back that required me to spend four days at the North Dakota state championship. (These were top-notch curlers -- few Olympians were in the field.) It took place in a very nice arena that had a bar overlooking the ice, which made the whole thing feel like one big party. (If I remember correctly, the first rule of curling is that the winners buy the post-game brews.)
Curling is kind of like what bowling used to be (or perhaps still is in some places): a sport that kids can play with their parents. One woman, sounding like Fargo's Marge Gunderson, said, "It's something the whole fam-damily can do."
OK, so we can relate to it and curlers are nice folk. But does that mean we should watch it? Absolutely. It is like no other sport at the Winter Games that is played by a team with an emphasis on strategy. Curling's leisurely pace and move/countermove rhythm make it a lot like chess and baseball. It's a forward-thinker's game. You have to look not only a few stones ahead in each end (basically an inning), but a few ends ahead (for complex reasons that involve possession of something called the "hammer" -- yet another cool term).
So mock all you want. Curlers may not be the first athletes that pop into your head when you hear the phrase "swifter, higher, faster," but the sport's whole fam-damily will have my attention in Turin.
Round robin play begins on Monday at Pinerolo Palaghiaccio.