As we make our way through the winter Olympics, I thought I would look at a sport that has something of an image problem – curling. For the uninitiated – or those living south of Nebraska – curling is a winter sport in which the participants slide a “rock” or “stone” (think of it as a giant, flat kettlebell from the gym) down a sheet of ice toward a target while their teammates use brooms (also called brushes) to alter the surface of the ice ahead of it. This sweeping action serves to influence the trajectory of the rock, directing it toward the target.
Even proponents will admit that watching curling is an acquired taste. That’s not really where the controversy lies. No, the friction (no pun intended) stems from how fast and readily the curling community gets defensive about their sport. For being a game that is viewed by amateurs as a relaxing way to spend time with friends, curling is a dead serious topic when discussed by its players. Being from a cold city where diehards hold outdoor bonspiels (a fun name for a curling tournament) in January, I thought I would offer a winter Olympics public service announcement: five things you should never, ever say to a curler about their sport:
(1) It sort of looks like shuffleboard. Ohhh boy. Nope. Nobody likes to be compared to old people on the Love Boat, but curlers take particular offense at this one. They will deny any connection between the two sports whatsoever. Just ignore the striking visual similarities between the two games, and move on.
(2) What is curling? This one is tough, because deep down a curler wants to tell you about their sport. But to do so, they almost inevitably need to reference shuffleboard (see #1 above). This causes an internal conflict that results in them instead treating you like a child who just asked where babies come from.
(3) It looks easy. Aren’t you just sweeping? Also not a conversation you want to have. Let me start by saying that curling is much harder than it looks. There is a lot of science involved, and experience is paramount. With that being said, many curlers act as if a skilled delivery is ten times harder than a great tee shot in golf and 100 times harder than a strike in bowling, two sports that also get confused with hobbies. For some reason, golfers and bowlers just don’t seem as uptight about it.
(4) It’s boring to watch. Wow. You are in for an argument if you say anything disparaging about watching adults use a broom on television. Focus on the skill involved, and you’ll appreciate the sport more. Think of it as soccer, where you sit through 90 minutes and only one person scores (on a good day), but all of the stuff in between is interesting to watch.
(5) They’re not really athletes, are they? Curling is about skill more than athleticism. John Daly won the U.S. and British Opens in golf and even though he looks like Uncle Buck, he is generally regarded as a professional athlete. You may not need to be Michael Phelps to win a gold medal, but the best curlers still stay in shape and work hard at their craft.
Instead of these taboo topics, enjoy Olympic curling with a fan by simply asking them to give you color commentary during the match. Ask them to tell you how they approach the sport themselves. Curling is inarguably one of those sports that is more fun to play than it is to watch, and their stories from the ice will inevitably add excitement to the game at hand.
And if you get a chance, give it a try. At the very least, you’ll have some interesting stories to tell every four years during the winter games.