Curling has been an Olympic sport since 1998. And, especially in last eight years or so, it has become everyone’s favorite Winter game to ironically like, make fun of, or become enthralled in strictly under the auspices of seeming incredibly interesting. You can put even money on a late-night talk show doing a remote somewhere where the host feigns an attempt to learn curling while he mostly dicks around and makes fun of a sport — not game, sport — that has roots as far back as the 16th century. Yes, curling is a little different. Yes, the shouts coming from the skips can seem out of place when juxtaposed next to such a slow-moving and low-contact event. It uses equipment not seen in any other sport. The curlers themselves look like they could work in your law office or butcher shop. That’s because they all work in a law firm or butcher shop or some other office — they all have day jobs. Baseball — the main subject of this Internet blog — is approaching. Pitchers and catchers are reporting. And while the mere fact of that brings excitement, it’s just that. There’s not much substance there. So, in the next few weeks, let me offer an alternative to fix your eyes upon. Let me sell you on curling.
Some of you might not need selling. That’s cool. Keep reading if you’d like. For everyone else, let’s get some things out of the way. Curling and baseball are really nothing alike. I won’t go over every difference because they are many, and they seem fairly obvious. We all know baseball is great. But curling is pretty great, too. It’s seen as mainly a game of strategy, and that isn’t far off. But don’t sell the players short as actual athletes. Surely, many aren’t fit and toned in a way that we may expect, but the throw — coming out of the hack in that smooth, forward motion while carrying a 40-pound stone — is not easy. If those hacky late-night bits serve any purpose, it’s to show just how difficult that motion actually is. It takes years to perfect that delivery. It can escape even the most experienced at times. And sweeping is no breezy task, either. It involves not only moving the broom as fast as you can, but simultaneously applying the most downward pressure possible. It races the heart and perspires the underarms.
But the strategy does play such a big part. The physics of the game allow only a handful of shot types. It’s how they are employed that separates. There are plans and backup plans and backup plans to the backup plans to consider. Opponents must not only be out-played, but out-thought. The basic rules are simple enough, and while it seems that some skips are running on autopilot at times, it only appears that way because they’ve been in that spot a thousand times before. It’s when they stop to think that things get squirrely. Doubts come. Past failures are remembered. It takes a flexible body, a flexible mind, and nerves of steel to compete at a high level at curling.
So, why should you care? Why should the baseball fan even raise an eyebrow? While the motions and actions of the game differ, the aesthetics match a fair bit. It’s slow-moving, in general. There’s periods of inaction followed by bursts of excitement and tension. Even if you are new to the sport, the high-leverage situations will be easy to spot. It’s leisurely and enthralling. Straight-laced and quirky. Mostly, it’s fascinating.
You can find the TV schedule online, and you should be able to stream a lot of it. Matt Sussman of Baseball Prospectus published some great primers to the competition. The fine folks at The Classical were nice enough to run a piece of mine that originally ran in their magazine, about the non-polished tournaments that happen all over our country. If you watch, you’ll figure out the rules quickly. There will almost certainly be an explanation before many of the early events. Cheer for the USA, if that’s your thing. The men are a long shot, but the ladies have a fairly decent chance at a medal. And many US players come from here in Minnesota. Cheer for the cute women or men. There are some of each. Cheer for the Norwegians and their famous goofy pants. But just give it a shot. It may surprise you. If not, you can at least be the most interesting person at the party by having observed more than five minutes of it. Curling is everybody’s favorite sport that they don’t actually watch. You can buck the trend, fair NotGraphs reader.
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