I, like many of my fellow Americans, have been enjoying the first week of the Winter Olympics, particularly the American domination in the medal count (our 28 to second-best Germany’s 24 at the time of writing). This Olympic supremacy naturally demonstrates America’s ability to excel at sports that we only bother to care about every four years (You don’t believe me? Everyone who watched last year’s World Bobsleigh and Skeleton Championships raise their hand. That’s what I thought). But, of course, it still matters. After all, the Olympics are billed as a celebration of athletic performance at its peak, a wonderful spectacle of near-superhuman competitors doing things we couch potatoes never thought possible (e.g., Shaun White’s ridiculously sick Gold-medal winning halfpipe run — and even crazier subsequent victory lap).
But as I sat on my couch — with Doritos in hand — this week, I noticed one thing that just didn’t belong. Juxtaposed amongst the stunning athletic grace of the ice dancers, the so-fast-blink-and-you’ll-miss-em rush of the speed skaters, the inspiring endurance of the cross-country skiers, and the sheer freakish physical skill of hockey stars like Sydney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, is the inexplicable quirkiness of curling.
In spite of — or perhaps because of — its quirkiness, curling is exploding in popularity, both globally and here at Northwestern. According to Yahoo, searches for “curling” have soared 19,000% this week, while the New York Times reports that Canadian curling team captain Kevin “K-Mart” Martin “approaches the popularity of hockey icons like ***Wayne Gretzky*** [emphasis added].” And at Northwestern, students have reportedly been gathering at frat houses and at Norris to marvel at the greatest Canadian export since Alanis Morissette. Illustrating both the quirkiness and the popularity of the “sport” is the Facebook fan page “The Norwegian Olympic Curling Team’s Pants,” which had 434,282 fans at last count. But if a mere Facebook fan page doesn’t convince you of curling’s quirkiness, I ask you this: how many other Olympic sports are in danger of going into extinction because of resource depletion or have teams that have big-time NFL players as honorary captains (just because)?
In case you’ve been living under a rock the past couple weeks, or simply have never met a Canadian, I’ll attempt to explain what this crazy game is all about. The objective of a curling competition — or bonspiel — is to score as many points as possible. Play proceeds when a player — or curler — slides a stone — or rock — across the ice towards a set of concentric circles — or house (this is called the delivery). While the rock is sliding, two other players — or sweepers — brush the ice in front of the stone in order to adjust its speed according to the shouted instructions from a fourth player — the “skip”. At the end of each round, a team scores points for each stone that is within the house and closer to the bullseye — or “tee” — than any stone of the opposing team. In summary, curling is essentially shuffleboard on ice.
Now I don’t want to make it sound like I disrespect curling; I don’t. I realize that it is an essential element of the hallowed Olympic tradition of including a token “sport” of questionable athletic bona fides (curling:Winter Olympics::equestrian dressage, the “art of riding slowly”:Summer Olympics). But if the team which is the favorite to win the Olympic gold medal has a five-month pregnant woman as a member, the minimum athleticism required has to be pretty low (which, of course, is not to say anything against pregnant women, as my mother was once a pregnant woman). Curling surely requires a great deal of skill; I am in no way saying that I could wipe the proverbial floor with the Canadian curling team. But I do find placement of a game at the Olympics that has a clear lack of requisite athletic prowess a bit odd.
Although, now that I think about — my Doritos still in hand — perhaps that in part explains the enormous appeal of curling; in curling, anyone can be an Olympian, regardless of athletic acuity. It’s a game that was seemingly created for the sedentary age. And that, my fellow couch potatoes, is something that Americans can surely get behind.