Monday, February 20, 2006

Curling, Is It A Sport?

I've been watching intently the Olympic curling tournament. For those of you that don't know curling, it is basically a sport where rocks with handles are slid down a sheet into a target. The sliding rock is helped by players who sometimes sweep the ice to encourage the rock further down the ice.

My girlfriend calls it "just sweeping, any janitor could do it." I call it an odd combination of billiards, darts, bowling, golf, AND sweeping. But it is none of those in any resemblance.

Living in the Detroit area I've been exposed to curling on TV since I was a kid through Canada's national TV, CBC. It should also be noted that CBC has always had the best hockey coverage with its Hockey Night In Canada broadcasts. As a kid I was always intrigued but confused by curling, bored yet with the feeling that this sport was something unique. As an adult, I have no problem catching a few "ends" (curlings equvalent to baseballs innings) every once in awhile.

Someday I'd like to give the sport a try. To do that you have to visit a curling club where they would have a number of curling strips to play on. There aren't that many around, although the sport is growing in popularity due to Olympic coverage every four years. Curling isn't highly strenuous and I suppose you'd have to like cool temperature as the air in the curling club mustn't be too warm to mess with the ice. The most physical work in curling is the sweeping, when necessary sweepers may be really sweating up a storm for a minute or two.

The key to curling is the person throwing the rock as that is where the impetus for a rock to curl must start. Down in the target area (the house) the idea is to have the most rocks closest to the center. A shooter tries to place blocking rocks, tries to place close shots, or tries to knock out opponents rocks. A good shooter has the ability to run a rock down past a blocking rock, curl it behind that rock while having enough speed to slowly float it into a close scoring position or knock out an opponents rock while leaving that shooting stone right there after the knock.

The advantage goes to the last stone in the end, having that last chance to finalize the target area. They call this final rock "The Hammer." If no score results at the end of the end, then the same order for throwing transfers to the next end, the same team keeps the hammer. One strategy is to purposely not to score just one point in an end thereby holding that hammer position further into the match. Many teams won't give up the hammer unless they can score two or more points in an end. There are tens ends to a match, having the hammer in a close game in the later ends is a powerful position. The hammer can be related to tennis and having serve, the advantage.

Now, I'm not exactly an affectionado and I don't know all the nuances to the game and I probably don't know all the rules, but I like it better than plenty of other sports. It's a great TV sport as camera men can be in close along the edge of the ice both up by the shooter and down by the target. They also place a camera directly overhead of the target which lets the viewer get a great angle of the house. As well, audio pickup is close and a viewer can listen in on the strategy decisions being made.

Catch a few ends during these Olympics, curling can become addicting.


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