McGinnis: Curling, my personal Olympic obsessionWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Ah, the Winter Olympics. The glory of competition. The joy of victory. The disgustingly homophobic laws passed in its host country. The alleged killing of stray dogs in an effort to keep Sochi’s streets clear. The constant stories of how horrifically unprepared the host city seems to be, with pictures of shared toilet stalls and missing floors dominating Twitter. The sub-par coverage by NBC, a network that often seems to grab random individuals walking by Rockefeller Center and tell them, “Congratulations, you’re covering luge.” Truly, it is a magical time.
OK, OK, maybe my cynicism is overblown, but even with all the troubling facets of these games, it is hard for most any observer of pop culture to not get even slightly swept up in the pageantry and spectacle, even if any enjoyment comes with quite a few qualifiers this time around. These events truly embody the Olympic spirit of friendly competition among nations. So many of the sports depicted are breathtaking to behold, their athletes living embodiments of grace and majesty.
And then there’s that event where competitors shove a heavy stone down a long ice track, with fellow team members comically sweeping the ice ahead of it in an effort to direct its trajectory, while yelling curious phrases like “Hurry hard!” or just “Hard!!!”
I’ll give you one guess as to what sport I watch.
Yep, once every four years, curling fever overtakes me, and I am at an utter loss to explain its magical hold. These games feature some of the most breathtaking sights capable by human achievement, and if they happen to be on, I’ll happily watch them. But I don’t seek them out. Curling, I seek out. My DVR is currently programmed to pick up every single game, regardless of the participants. And I will watch them. Every. Single. One.
Right now, the readers of this column are probably divided sharply into two segments — those who are preparing to call and get me committed to a psychiatric ward, and those who are nodding their heads, who share my curious obsession with this curious game and simply haven’t felt comfortable revealing this information to friends, family, co-workers, in-laws, etc. Come out, dear brothers and sisters, you are in safe company. And really, we may not be alone in this for much longer.
For those who remain unfamiliar with the basics of the game (or are steadfastly pretending that they are), here’s the short version. Two teams of four. A long sheet of ice with a target at either end. Each team takes turns pushing a heavy stone (and “stone” is not a euphemism here — we’re talking about 40 pounds or so each) down from one end of the ice to the other. Each team is trying to get their stones as close to the center of the target as possible.
Really, that’s about it. There are a few sundry additions here and there that make the whole thing a bit more quirky, like the fact that the only way teams have to direct the stone as it skids down the ice is to rapidly sweep in front of it to reduce friction. But the basics are simple enough for a child to grasp.
And that is part of the charm, I think. In America’s most popular sports, it takes a while to grasp the myriad subtleties of the rules that come into effect during an average game. Try and explain baseball to an outsider and you have to be prepared to sit a while. Many other Olympic sports require an understanding of numerous nuances to follow their scoring. Curling? Curling’s as blunt as the stones they toss.
And yet there is subtlety here, too. As with billiards, bowling, golf or other niche sports, there are tons of variables to consider. The player must master the delivery of the stone and its effect on the other stones it will hit. It takes remarkable skill to understand how to curl the rock around a guard and hit your opponents’ lie just right so it will knock their stones out of the house.
Following those aspects, enjoying its simple structure and simply being so different from the overbearing nature of modern sports — all this is a big part of the reason the curling bug hits every few years for me. And it’s clear I’m not alone. Though we may naturally be biased around these parts, thanks to our proximity to Canada, where it’s easily the most popular, it feels as though the game is garnering more of a following the more exposure it gets. Trust me, this bug is contagious. And if you don’t hurry, it’ll get you, too.
So hurry. Hurry hard.