Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Why Curling Rocks (pun intended)

I'm not getting to see as much Olympic action as I'd like, but after some of last week's Olympic discussion, I figured many viewers outside Canada might be curious about curling. Let's face it. Most viewers INSIDE Canada don't know much about curling.

When I was a kid, my parents curled, but it was a social kind of thing more than competitive. (See #1 and #3 below) And before you go thinking everyone up here in Canada goes curling every weekend... we don't. Most people I know have never been near a curling rink.

I think it's popularity is a regional thing in Canada. I've always assumed that it was more popular in the prairie provinces, and maybe in the Maritimes, although I do remember my parents playing in Montreal (and in fact, I remember playing a modified kids version with tin cans filled with cement when I was a little kid in Montreal, but my parents are from the prairies...).

In addition to that regional assumption, I've always thought of it as an old fashioned sport. In fact, I was shocked (in the 80's) to find out one of my University classmates was a prior Ontario junior curling team member. People my age curl? Who knew. And that was (um) a while ago.

Now it seems like young people are playing it again. Okay, maybe not in droves, but some. When my sister in law immigrated to Canada from Scotland a few years ago, she organized a curling day for my brother's birthday (was fun) and the guy who gave us a short lesson said there had been a big pick up in younger players since it became an official Olympic sport again in 1998.

But, down to business... In the spirit of the lists Molly loves, I thought I'd try to compile a top ten list of why curling rocks.

1) Anyone can do it. It's hard to do well, don't get me wrong. Believe me, if you tried, you would not be able to approximate what you're seeing on TV... BUT you would be able to play and have fun. I've played with a few smaller women who couldn't lift the rocks off the ice... but you don't really need to lift it off the ice. I've also seen a few people who lacked enough flexibility or strength to push out of the hack... And lots of people who couldn't balance for long, or stay on their feet trying to run down the ice and sweep... but again, it's not that hard to do. Just hard to do well.

2) It's more about strategy and skill than traditional athleticism. Don't know if this is a pro or con in the "should it really be an Olympic sport" column... but hey, archery and shooting sports are in the Olympics and they're more about skill, too. Not even as much strategy in those. The accuracy of some of these curlers at the Olympic level astounds me... Gauging speed, direction, rotation of the stone and how it will curve (curl) on the ice (which also changes based on speed) and how wet the ice is (based on how hard the sweepers are sweeping) which also affect both speed and degree of curl. It really is hard to do well. The ability to tuck the stones in behind other stones and control where they roll after they hit each other, is amazing. Especially if you've ever tried it. So many variables. Makes billiards seem simple in comparison.

3) It's a really fun recreational sport. (See #1) When I first started working, our office had an annual curling day and it was my favorite social event of the year. There were enough people in the office who knew how to curl (yes, mostly the older guys -- i.e. partners) to put at least one player who knew the rules on each team. And the rest of us just winged it and drank beer. What's not to like?

4) No spandex. No sequins. (No crazy aboriginal outfits.) Even with awesome athlete bodies, I think most human-beings look ridiculous in those tight spandex suits that seem to be used in just about every winter sport these days. (The snowboarders will cave, too, as soon as someone wins one of those speed-contingent events wearing a spandex suit.) But curlers? That's one sport where there will never be skin-tight suits. And not just because most of the participants don't have the body for it, because those suits wouldn't give any advantage. Yes, these days curlers wear special shoes with Teflon on the sole of one... but that's about as technical as the clothing gets. Beyond that, no real need for special clothes.

5) Sweeping. A sport with brooms. Just makes me giggle. But I do miss the old-style ones that disappeared about 20 years ago. I still associate the thwap, thwap, thwap of those straw brooms hitting ice, with the sport. To me, that's how curling sounds (even if it doesn't anymore). That, and the sound of stones cracking against each other. Plus, those old-style brooms were hard work... and more skill involved in the timing... and the possibility of stray straw bits on the sheet of ice also added another (possibly unwanted) element to the sport. Sigh. Miss real curling brooms. BTW. There's a very silly Canadian movie from about 8-10 years ago called Men with Brooms. Lesley Nielson is in it, and Molly Parker from Deadwood... Funny. See if you can rent it.

6) The Norwegian men's team's pants. (I thought it was the Swiss team... but according to this photo's caption, it's the Norwegians. Not sure.) This is clothing related, but they're so awesome they deserve their own entry. I caught about 5 minutes of a men's game back on one of the first days of the games. The pants with the red, white and blue diamonds. All kinds of awesome.

7) The name is funny. Curling. **giggles** Many childhood jokes involved asking dad about his curling, when, let's just say, he was a little hair-deprived, even back then.

8) Tournaments are called Bonspiels. I just like the sound of the word. Fred and Jane's rink won the big bonspiel this weekend. Just trips off the tongue. ;) Other terminology like skip, hack and hog line are fun, too.

9) The yelling is fun. Hard, Hard. Hurry hard. Whoa. Where else will you hear women sounding like sailors, or maybe pirates. Haaard... I get why they had to yell so loudly when they were still using those old brooms... Now? Not so much. Wonder if it's just tradition. The sheets of ice aren't THAT long.

10) I know hockey is Canada's official winter sport, (lacrosse for summer), but to me, curling is even more Canadian. Sure, the Scot's invented it (in late medieval times, according to Wikipedia). But the Scottish immigrants brought it over here, and I'm pretty sure for the past century, at least, it's been more popular in Canada than in Scotland.

Finally, who wouldn't love a sport where you throw, run after, and sweep the way for a 4o pound chunk of polished granite?


Eileen said...

Love love love the curling. I was really saddened by the US women's losses to Sweden especially since those Swedish girls had cuter outfits. Sorry, Maureen, but the outfits count. The Swedish girls had cute black miniskirts on top of black leggings. It was a good look.

I would love to get to curl. Your annual event sounds like a blast. Beer. People running on ice. What could go wrong?

Maureen McGowan said...

:) Eileen.

Not saying the outfits don't count, just that we're not likely to see spandex or sequins. The Swedish outfits sound super cute! And I still love the Norwegian men's diamond slacks. :)

Yes, re the beer and running on ice. Slight recipe for disaster. But hey, we all need a little danger.

Speaking of ice danger... I made the mistake of leaving the TV on the Olympics last night after the women's skating and caught a bit of a hockey game. Think it was Finland and maybe Switzerland? Anyway, horrible hit. Guy went down and helmet popped off. HUGE amounts of blood on the ice. Horrible. I haven't heard to day if he was okay.

Subourbon Wife said...

AHA! So there IS someone who knows what curling is all about! Down in the South we are a bit confused. But you can settle this for my husband and me - does the first person wear one skate? Or a bowling-type shoe? Or a banana peel? Or what? She just glides along the ice very mysteriously.

Maureen McGowan said...

Welcome, Subourbon Wife. Given the bourbon in your name, you'll get along with us, well. :)

One shoe has a teflon coating, the other has a surface that's rougher and easier to grip on the ice. That's a fairly modern improvement/change to the game... people used to just use normal shoes.

The times I've played... we just played in running shoes (or winer boots when I was a kid and played once or twice outside). There are also sliders you can attach over a shoe or boot, too... Most curling clubs have them available to borrow. Typically you can borrow brooms, too. But anyone serious about the sport would have their own broom/slider etc.

Eileen said...

And don't forget the Hurry Hard condoms!!

Sinead M said...

Curling is something I still don't get. I love that the Canadian teams are pretty great and I think the sweeping is funny to watch, it's one of the few Olympic sports I haven't watched..

Molly O'Keefe said...

I have been LOVING the curling - I know nothing about it but it's fun to have on the background while I run through line edits. The other thing about that Norweigen team - the skip is HOT!!! Like stupid good looking.

It also helps that the Canadian teams are just amazing all over the place -- it's fun to have people to root for. One thing I will say about Canada - we get better coverage of all the small sports - whereever a canadian has a chance - be it bobsleigh or curling - we got tons of coverage. Makes it more fun to root for the athletes.

All though the drama is all over the place this year isn't it?

Thanks for the education, Maureen - I look forward to applying my new knowledge to the next round.

L.A. Mitchell said...

I actually learned something about curling, including the awesomness of clown pants. Thanks, Maureen:)

Wylie Kinson said...

John Morrow yelling HAAAARD!! is all the reason I need to be a curling fan. :D

I grew up in Thunder Bay where curling is quite big. When I was in high school, I decided to try (yes, inspired by a cute boy). I stepped on the ice once. ONCE. Went ass over tea kettle. The humiliation was overwhelming... never tried it again. I regret that.

Wylie Kinson said...

John Morrow yelling HAAAARD!! is all the reason I need to be a curling fan. :D

I grew up in Thunder Bay where curling is quite big. When I was in high school, I decided to try (yes, inspired by a cute boy). I stepped on the ice once. ONCE. Went ass over tea kettle. The humiliation was overwhelming... never tried it again. I regret that.

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