The case for curling

Daniel Michon | Op-Ed Submission

It’s been called the “breakout hit of the Winter Olympics.” San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis has taken it up, and the former fastest man in the world, Carl Lewis, says, “It’s so difficult to do…but it’s easy to follow, and I just got sucked in.” It has received extensive coverage in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor and even the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It scored some of the highest television ratings in February’s Winter Olympics, captivating audiences from Wall Street to Southern California. And you can’t find it anywhere within 100 miles of St. Louis.

Not yet, that is.

Already one of Canada’s most beloved pastimes, curling is steadily taking a hold on the States too. Clubs from New Jersey to Oregon were swamped at their open houses in the weeks following these past Olympic Games, many reporting several hundred people coming to learn more about the “roarin’ game.” The United States Curling Association, curling’s governing body in the U.S., has received hundreds of requests from groups interested in starting their own clubs. Yet despite this popularity, we’ve all heard the critiques of the game—“bowling on ice,” “frozen bocce” and “professional housecleaning.” But of those who take these unwarranted jabs, how many know anything about the sport beyond what they saw as they walked past the television?

The first misconception is that the sport is easy—that anyone with some spare time and a pond in their backyard can soon be an Olympian. Just like golf, curling is a precision sport. And anyone who says golf is easy has obviously never even stepped on a fairway. Likewise, anyone naïve enough to call curling “bowling on ice” hasn’t bothered to visit a club. Games are often won and lost by inches—anyone who watched the terrible misfortunes of the U.S. women’s team in Vancouver can attest to that. If a player releases a stone 1 or 2 inches too far to their his right, it could turn into 1 or 2 feet at the other end of the sheet. Players must also judge how much power to push the stone with to land it within a 12-foot circle—that’s more than 40 yards away. Add to that the difficulty of controlling a 42-pound stone, and it quickly becomes obvious why the men and women we watch on television only got that far after years of honing their skills.

But a deeper look beneath the surface reveals a game awash with strategy, earning its other nickname, “chess on ice.” Watching the American broadcast team walk its audience through the basics of the sports makes it seem rather simple—get your rock closer to the “bull’s eye” than your opponent. A casual flip to TSN or any other Canadian sports network reveals another world—one where the complex dynamics of guards and draws and biters and lies perform a delicate dance that only the most experienced can truly understand.

Despite the difficulties in mastering the game, though, one can learn it in under an hour. Within an afternoon you can go from knowing absolutely nothing about the sport to playing a game and starting to understand its appeal. The game has a culture that stresses what we don’t often see in sports anymore. There are no scandals in curling—no steroids, shootings or affairs. It’s a game dominated by sportsmanship—as there are no referees, players are expected to call their own fouls. Men and women can compete on the same level—even the physically impaired can play. It is the world’s most universal sport, in which sons can play alongside their fathers and age differences between siblings bear no weight. You don’t need to be athletic or a genius to play—all that is required is the willpower to try something new. It’s exactly what sport is meant to be, but we seem to have lost sight of—fun.

There will always be those who unfairly attack the sport, those who mock its relaxed nature and its odd rules. But were they to take the effort and try it out, they would undoubtedly see a different side of the sport and come to love its quirks and nuances. As such, Wash. U. Curling is proud to host its first meeting Wednesday, March 24, at 8 p.m. in Seigle Hall L002. If you have years of experience or simply want to understand what ‘biting the house’ means, come. With your help, we can finally bring one of the world’s oldest sports to St. Louis.

Good curling,
Daniel Michon

The newly established curling team has a Facebook group and can be reached at wustlcurl​ing@gmail.com.