Curling rocks Vancouver … and Bowling GreenWritten by Roger Holliday Claudia Fischer | | firstname.lastname@example.org
When the curtain goes up on the Winter Olympics in Vancouver on Feb. 12, one event will almost certainly slide from relative obscurity to center stage. Or rather, to center ice.
It’s curling, a quirky game of rocks and broomsticks that developed in the early 17th century on the frozen lochs of Scotland and has, during the course of 400 years, spread itself around the world.
This year’s Olympics will feature men’s and women’s teams from 12 qualifying countries that will compete in round robin play starting Feb. 16. Medal matches take place Feb. 26 to Feb. 27.
Teams going for gold are USA, Canada, Sweden, Norway, Britain, China, France, Denmark, Japan, Russia, Germany and Switzerland.
One local group that will be paying close attention to this year’s competition will be the Bowling Green Curling Club, which has been slip-sliding down its own ice sheets at BGSU since the ice arena opened in 1967.
The club comprises some 100 members who compete in winter leagues (October through April) and in-house tournaments — bonspiels — as well as playing against other curling clubs in the U.S. and Canada.
There’s also a university student club and a community-wide youth league in Bowling Green.
Membership in all organizations is expected to rise dramatically if previous Olympics are any indication, according to club president Gary Saddler.
“When people see the game for the first time and then begin to learn the fundamentals, they simply have to get out on the ice and try it for themselves,” he said.
While curling was originally a simple winter pastime played on frigid lakes and ponds, today’s game is finessed on meticulously groomed sheets of ice in temperature controlled arenas using state-of-the-art equipment. But it still remains a basic game of angles, inches and strategy calling for pin point accuracy, the focus of a chess master, the touch of a professional jockey … and the cool of a high-stakes poker player.
The fact that it’s also loaded with tradition, etiquette and conviviality — where courtesy trumps trash talk, players call their own errors and a “wee dram” or its malty equivalent, is the traditional conclusion to every game — small wonder perhaps that curlers are so passionate and protective of their sport.
As the only curling facility in Northwest Ohio, the Bowling Green Club attracts members from far afield and from every age and demographic. University students are pitted against octogenarians. Homemakers against homebuilders. Financial officers against farmers. Computer geeks against captains of industry.
With push brooms flailing and rocks ricocheting around 12-foot rings and raucous shouts filling the air, the sport may sometimes appear weird or confusing to the outsider. But the fundamentals are fairly simple.
A team of four players — lead, second, third (vice) and skip (captain) — slide 42-pound granite rocks (stones) down a sheet of ice attempting to place their rocks closer to the center of a bull’s-eye (the house) than the opposing team’s rocks.
The skip, standing in the house, signals where and how each stone should be delivered and which precise twist or “curl” to give it. Sweepers, accompanying the rocks down the ice, can affect both the arc and speed. Strong brushing can add as much as 12 feet to a rock’s progress by heating up the ice surface and reducing friction.
However, there’s many a slip ’twixt broom and rock!
Ice conditions can change in the course of a game. And tactics such as removing an opponent’s stone, guarding or promoting one’s own or simply slipping a stone through impossibly narrow gaps with millimeters to spare make for pure white-knuckle drama, especially when a match can be lost or won with the delivery of the final stone.
This year’s Olympic competition is being aired extensively on USA, MSNBC and CNBC cable channels starting Feb. 16. Viewers will find that curling is tailor-made for TV and may well be the epitome of the “up close and personal” sport.
Players remain on the ice for up to three hours so that cameras moving with the curlers and the stones catch every maneuver, expression and emotion. Microphones pick up strategy discussions. Commentaries are always in the hands of expert curlers.
“It was the thrilling TV coverage from the last Winter Olympics that got me totally hooked on the sport,” Saddler said. “But it’s not just the game I enjoy. Or the regular winter exercise. It’s also all the great friends I’ve made at the club and the fact that I’ll probably be curling for the rest of my life.”
Anyone interested in learning more about the sport or joining the BG Curling Club should contact Gary Saddler at (419) 345-2007 or e-mail him at email@example.com.
The Bowling Green Curling Club Web site is www.bgcurlingclub.com.