I may have bragging rights to unusual ways to spend an American Sunday in April. I went to the Men's World Curling Championship, which this year is being held in Lowell, Mass.
Sunday was only the second day of competition. I'm not sure whether it was defiance of fate that led the organisers to start the event on April 1, but there it was. At any rate, I think I'm justified in believing contemporary Americans have something to learn from this sport. I stand corrected on several other points.
Yes, pilgrims, it absolutely is
a sport. The occasional US television coverage fails to convey that.
Fat men on ice? Not hardly. I saw one rotund Irish competitor during the "draw" we attended, who made up for his girth by his command of the game. The rest were commendably fit.
No wonder. In case you missed this detail, the stone weighs 44 pounds
. All four members of a team slide that sucker twice in each "end" (or inning) for ten ends in...as I recall...75 minutes of playing time. At this level of play, the curlers can usually land the stone within an inch or two of their chosen spot, more than 40 metres from their starting point, every time. Working as they are under a time limit, these guys are not exactly standing around. When one considers that there are four games going on simultaneously during each draw, one begins to understand that there is a lot going on.
Curling has the same mechanical appeal as billiards, with a lot more sweat. The aerobic demands pale next to the requirement that each player be able to make a succession of on-the-fly physics decisions, and make them more accurately at the end of an afternoon of hurling large weights and running after them with brooms than at the beginning. If billiards were played on a 50-metre, frozen table, with a surface varying from one minute to the next, with 44 pound rocks...you get the picture.
The pace of the game certainly was level with baseball, and far beyond that staple of winter weekend sports TV, golf. Two features of curling that are probably beyond the comprehension of American fans are 1) it is mainly self-regulated and 2) victory demonstrations by players are frowned upon. (What would happen if someone tried to spike a curling stone does not bear thinking about.)
The American sports media were, naturally, notably absent. These are the people who have been dragged against their will into tolerating soccer, and it's taken a full generation to get that far with the world's most popular sport. They seemed to be the only sports media not represented. Sportscasters were covering the event in a dozen languages with well-instructed attention. The audience did not exactly fill the Tsongas Arena, but it was a fair-sized (and fairly rowdy) crowd all the same.
Oh yes: it's the winners who buy the losers a round. Seems to explain why curling is popular in countries that have as much beer as they have ice.