Unintentionally I seem to be paying attention to the weirder, lesser understood Olympic games. The Biathlon of course I already talked about and it's really no surprise it caught my attention. It involves people skiing around and shooting at stuff, who wouldn't want to watch that? The sport that's caught me by surprise this year though is the one I've made fun of for years, pulling out all sorts of references to cheese making, house cleaning, and general Canadian jokes. Admittedly I knew absolutely nothing about this sport, but to be honest, not knowing what I'm talking about has never stopped me before.
Curling. I've been asking myself for years how it could be considered an Olympic sport, this year I've come to a conclusion: if synchronized swimming is a sport, surely this ice thing is. Heck they're doing better than me by just not falling down. My attention was first drawn to the sport when the NBC anchorman announced they would be running a story that takes an in depth look at the US Curling team's training "and despite popular belief, it's more than just drinking beer and playing cards."
Holy crap, our curlers are apparently more infamous than Bode Miller. Unlike Bode, thankfully, I don't think our curlers have ever curled drunk. At least not in competition. They have taken a bit of flak I'm afraid for their losing record, but I think that's sort of the price to be paid when a nation competes in a sport most of its citizenry has never heard of. Think of our curlers as the Jamaican Bobsled team.
After I watched the story on our curlers, John Schuster, Jason Smith, Jeff Isaacson,John Benton, and Chris Plys, I discovered something. These are regular guys. Schuster, Smith, and Isaacson have been best friends for years, playing on the same curling team in Chisholm, Minnesota and even living together in Schuster's two bedroom apartment with his fiance. Schuster is a bartender and groundskeeper at a golf course, Isaacson is a teacher, Benton is an operating systems analyst. They like to drink beer and play poker in their down time. They are not your standard Olympic athletes, and I think I like that about them.
After finding out a little about the team I decided to watch a match and was somehow sucked in. I had absolutely no idea what I was watching, except that it resembled the strangest shuffleboard I have ever seen. I understood the gist of it, throw the stones down the ices, sweep in front of it to speed it up or slow it down, and try and get it as close to the center of the bulls eye as possible. Also, there seems to be some sort of shot clock involved and a blocking strategy I couldn't figure out. It was research time.
The game apparently originated in the early 1500's in Scotland. You may note another odd game that involves attempting to get a round object into a small target that was invented in Scotland just a few hundred years earlier. I suspect both sports involved a large amounts of scotch whisky, probably making Schuster and his bunch the most historically qualified team in Vancouver this year. The sport was first played competitively in the Olympics in 1998; I think that was my first actual exposure to this odd game. A curling match consists of ten "ends" with each team throwing sixteen stones per end. There is a 73 minute shot clock per team and each team gets two 60 second time outs. A team must get off all of their stones within the 73 minutes. The team with the stone closest the center of the "house", or target, gets the point.
This year the U.S. has gotten off to a rough start, both in men's and women's. At the time of this writing, the men have a record of 2-4, and actually replaced Schuster with their alternate, Plys, for one match. He returned for their most recent match and won 8 to 7. The women are currently 1-3.
If you'd like to take a closer look at your American Men's Curling team, check this out: The Everyman Olympians.
If you're still not interested in Curling, here's a bunny with a pancake on its head.