Olympic curling on the horizon

Commentary

When the hours of daylight grow shorter and the nights seem infinitely longer, it’s clear that winter is on its way.

I’m not usually one who looks forward to the colder temperatures and earlier sunsets, but every four years is another matter entirely. I love the Winter Olympics, with its cool X-Games vibe and intriguing array of sports; and I especially love curling.

Maybe it’s the sport’s qualities of quiet athleticism and communicative teamwork; or perhaps it’s that I only see it every four years, but when it’s on, I can watch it for hours.

Having set my DVR to record all curling events during the 2014 games, I was pleasantly surprised to find Olympic Trials in curling waiting for me over the weekend. I spent the better part of an afternoon watching the last two U.S. men’s teams battle it out for a trip to South Korea in February.

In the tie-breaker of a three-game final series, the team of John Shuster needed the final rock of the final end (like innings in baseball) to clinch their spot on the 2018 USA Olympic Team. It had every bit of the strategy, precision and drama that I have come to love over the last few decades of following the Olympics.

Every four years, when curling earns national broadcast coverage, I have to re-learn the sport; it’s an effort to remember the terminology and the format, but the one thing I never have to work to recall is how intriguing this event is.

Somewhat like a combination of ice bowling, billiards and shuffleboard, curling is a fascinating team sport that involves pushing (and turning) heavy granite stones toward a bull’s-eye-looking target. Teams take turns delivering their stones, with the option of bumping others out of the way after the first four stones have been placed. Points are scored for every stone closer to the center (pin or tee) than the opponent. When a stone is thrown, teammates may sweep the ice in front of the stone to make it travel farther. Through each player’s turn in each end, the drama and excitement intensifies.

The sport is physically difficult but also mentally taxing and requiring a tremendous amount of communication, from discussing each potential shot to shouting out commands to sweepers trying to help the stones to the most advantageous position.

Perhaps what I like the most about curling is its relative obscurity.

These athletes have full-time jobs in addition to their full-hearted commitment to their sport. They are competing for personal bests, their teammates and their country, and I for one, can’t wait to see them again in PyeongChang.

Goodman Shaffer can be reached at kellie@bedfordcountychamber.org.

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