Sunday, February 28, 2010

'Couver Town Recaps: And Last But Not Least - Curling

(David Murdoch from Great Britain strikes a pose. There's nothing to it. Curl, curl curl... )

Ahh, Curling. It's only been two weeks of competitive events, but it feels like the curling event started at least 3 and a half months ago, no? Seriously, can you remember a time when NBC was not playing a curling match this winter? I cannot. I watched a lot of curling over the past couple weeks, and I have to say I don't really have a better idea of how it is played or scored than I did before the Games. There's a shuffleboard made out of ice, and heavy discs (simply called stones), and brooms. There's a big green circle and a smaller blue circle. You want the stones to land as close to the inside of the blue circle as possible. If it is, then you get a point. There's a lot of sweeping of the ice to help guide the stone as it goes down the ice. There's also a lot of shouting involved in curling. Oh, the shouting. You can't just let the disc go and then have your teammates guide it down the board. You have to reeeeeally shout at them to get them to do the right thing. It's not an exact science though. You can shout really loud and still lose. Each game has 10 rounds called "ends" which has to be ironic because these matches go on forever.

The special thing about curling during this Olympics is that the crowds collectively lost their MINDS over the sport. It became this amazing event. People were packed in to see the Canadian men defeat Norway, claiming the gold medal with a score of 6-3. There was also an insane interest in the women's gold medal match, which ended with Sweden edging Canada 7-6 in extra ends. That turned out to be one of the few Gold medal matches in which Canada was competing and did not win.

For the past two weeks, the curling stadium has been alive with noise. The problem was that most people in the stands seemed to not understand the rules of curling any better than I did watching at home. They just cheered constantly. It didn't really matter what was going on in the curling match itself. But it certainly mattered to the players. In theory, curling fans follow a cheering code similar to that of golf and tennis, with silence regarded as golden during play.

For instance there was Madeleine Dupont from Denmark, who missed two potential winning shots against Canada in women's play early on in the tournament. Afterward the loss, she tearfully blamed the noise of the crowd on her inability to execute. It's easy to understand her point. Imagine you take part in a sport where no one has bothered to cheer nor heckle you ever before. Now suddenly you're trying to perform in a high-pressure situation, and you have all this extra stimuli you're not accustomed to experiencing. You have to want to just turn to the crowd and say, "Do shut up."

There really isn't a Chair Umpire like there is in tennis to say "thank you." and make the crowd be quiet during a player's serve. The release of the stone in curling is a lot like the tennis serve or a golfer's swing and even if you're rooting against the player who is in the hot seat, you don't shout crazy shit at them at crucial moments. The curling crowds in Vancouver took a long time to come to this understanding.

(If you don't like the pants of the Norwegian team, you and I are no longer friends.)

Still, in its way, I think curling is an essential component of the Winter Olympics. It doesn't get a ton of respect, but I think people have a lot of affection for it. Unlike the aerials or snowboarding, you look at curling and feel like you could competently play that, if someone just explained the damn rules to you. It's one sport in the Winter Games that doesn't feel extreme and that's important and very comforting.

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