Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Curling, My Favorite Winter Olympic Sport. Because of the Canadian Curlgar.

Living on the West Coast is wonderful for watching televised sports for lots of reason. Who cares what time Monday Night Football starts? It's still over by 9 pm and the rest of the evening is free to do whatever. Sunday NFL games start at 10 in the morning, so I just roll out of bed and start watching football. I make waffles and watch the first rounds of the NCAA Tournament every year, because the first Thursday and Friday games start at 9 am. But for all the positives, it still presents a problem when teevee networks are stupid. The 2010 Winter Olympics from Vancouver, for instance. You know, Western Canada. The same time zone I'm in. About 400 miles directly north of me. NBC, in an effort to get more viewers (aka, more advertising dollars), tape-delayed all of the network coverage except in rare instances. Which means that even though it was happening where I was, I couldn't watch it live.

Unless.

Unless it was on one of the cable networks, like MSNBC and USA network and CNBC. So I more or less boycotted the network coverage for the live stuff. As a result, I watched a lot of curling and I loved it. I had never really watched it before, but dammit it was live and it was the Olympics and the rest of NBC's Olympic coverage could go stuff itself.

All sports need a great ambassador in order to jump into the heads of people who wouldn't normally follow the sport. In the 2010 winter Olympics, that ambassador was Canadian Cheryl Bernard, aka the “Canadian Curlgar.” Let's face it, it helps when your best player is also rather attractive. You can say that's sexist and all that, but go ahead and tell me why some girls watch football and love the New England Patriots. They don't like Tom Brady because he can throw a real good 15-yard out route, I’ll tell you that much. So I started watching curling because Cheryl Bernard looked good in a curling outfit. I also sure as hell didn't start looking at Playboy for the articles. But you know what? Lots of those articles back in the magazine's prime were very well done. I wouldn't have found them had I not been looking at the magazine for other reasons. Same with curling.

You remember her.
The reason I actually started to take an interest in curling has to do with something I think every Olympics. Usually while watching at least one or two sports I say, “That's an Olympic sport? Why didn't anybody tell me about this? I could have been an Olympian if somebody had told me about this!” And I get mad that nobody I knew told me that speed-reading Sherlock Holmes was a sport. Or opening beer bottles without using a standard opener was a sport. Or naming all the cast members of Saturday Night Live was a sport. Or writing snarky sports columns was a sport. Something like that. Anyway, I realized that curling is a combination of shuffleboard, billiards, and bowling. And I like all of those sports. And generally, I'm not horrible at them. So curling became “my” Olympic sport.

I mentioned to a co-worker of mine that I was mad that nobody told me that I could have become an Olympic curler because I like shuffleboard, billiards, and bowling. She agreed, and said she thought the same thing. So we decided that we would learn curling and make the American team for the next Olympics, except that nobody had invented mixed-doubles curling.

Well, as it turns out, there is mixed-doubles curling, and mixed-doubles curling world championships, it's just not in the Olympics. And I just found out about this last week, because NBC has started pushing winter Olympics previews on us. So I basically just wasted three years wishing there was mixed-doubles curling, instead of actually playing it. It wouldn't have mattered anyway, my co-worker moved two years ago.

The original caption, I swear to you, is "Most Beautiful Canadian."
Nevertheless, one thing we still came up with still stands: there's no doubt in my mind that the best American curlers are a shadow of the best Canadian curlers. To me it's like Canadian football players. They might be the best at it in Canada, but put them on even the Jacksonville Jaguars and they'll have a tough time making the active roster. That's how I think about American curlers. The best one would probably be ranked 200th in Canada. So in order to be good at curling in America, I just have to.... well, practice. So it would be good to find an ice rink and a curling club. Not necessarily in that order. It would be more fun to join a curling organization (be sure to pronounce that Canadian proper, “organ-I-zay-shun,” not “organ-uh-zay-shun”) that uses a basketball court or an indoor soccer facility. It would be an even better story when we make the Olympics.

Now, should I find a curling organ-I-zay-shun and get practicing, there's another thing that gives me hope out making the Olympics: the oldest curler in Vancouver in 2010 was 47. 47! A 47 year old in the Olympics! That means I have a chance! Besides, it's a combination of shuffleboard, billiards, and bowling, those are made for old people anyway. I got this, no problem.

It should be rather obvious that this curling jones hit me again late last week. So it made me look up when the curling Olympic trials are for the US and Canada. And in an odd coincidence, the American trials are actually this week. They're going on right now (they started Sunday) in Fargo, North Dakota. Which seems like a pretty natural place to have curling championships. Although they would be a lot more fun in Malibu. And the finals will be televised live on NBCSN (that's on cable, go figure) on Friday and Saturday.

But before that, they're webcasting the round robins. (And saying that always makes me want to go Walter Sobchak: “And we do enter the next round robin. Am I wrong?”) So I tried watching them. And aside from the the horrible glitches they have had in the webcasts-

I have to go on a tangent here, (not like a column about curling isn't a tangent already) but here's the actual Facebook post the US Curling Association put out on Monday, when they were having terrible problems. And this is a serious post, not something made up by the Onion.

It says, swear to Cheryl:  “Since we're having problems with the webcast, you should buy a ticket and come watch the trials in person.”

Here, read it yourself:


This assumes that I am within a billion miles of Fargo. Which, since most of the curling clubs are in Wisconsin and Minnesota and the Dakotas and Montana, is probably not an inaccurate assumption. But what that post immediately does- and I'm looking directly at you, US Curling Association, American ambassadors of a sport more fringe than synchronized swimming (and remember, I'm on your side)- is alienate every fan of your sport who's not able to be at the trials. And that's why we're trying to watch the damned thing on the internet anyway.

There are curling clubs in just about every state in the union. (Not Hawaii, but several in Florida.) Congratulations, you've ticked every one of them off by saying “Why don't you just come to Fargo?” I hope somebody on your marketing team gets reprimanded or fired or conked in the head with one of the stones for that post.

Cheryl on a completely different runway
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, I was going on about actually watching the trials before the webcast went down and Brainy Smurf ticked off curling fans in Maine and Oregon and Texas and Nevada and the Carolinas and Alaska and Tennessee and Ohio and Washington, and let us not forget that there is a team competing in the round robin from Seattle, so I'm sure their friends and families weren't bothered by that stupid tweet at all. Am I wrong?

I'm going to actually continue on now. The other problem about watching trials aside from the horrible glitches in the webcast- smacks self upside head- the problem with the actual competition on the ice is that I had the exact same feeling I feel watching Major League Soccer as opposed to Premier League Soccer. And it's something I already mentioned when I decided that I could totally be an Olympic curler- it's that feeling of watching people play a sport who, while they may be pretty good, are clearly well below the highest level of competition possible in that particular event. And watching the not-quite-the-best play is... well... hard to watch when you've seen the best (aka, the Canadians). 

Perhaps, however, a better analogy is beer league softball, where any team is capable of scoring 23 runs in an inning. A couple of dink hits and three consecutive doubles and a change of pitcher and a questionable call and a grand slam and boom, you're at eight or nine runs and there's nobody out and it feels like you could keep going for an hour and the other team is thinking please please please make it stop, make it stop, make it stop! The most points you could score in a curling inning, or end, is 8, (and that is much rarer than scoring 23 runs in a beer league softball inning) but you get my drift.

So maybe it's better off that the webcast is down. I'll get back to it for the finals Friday and Saturday, because at least in the MLS and beer league championship game it's the best of the second-tier teams, so they're on their toes a little more, you know what I mean?

As for the best curling players in the Americas, the Canadian championships are in early December, and unfortunately for all of us, the Canadian Curlgar is nowhere to be found this time. She didn't make it out of the preliminary rounds. But I’ll always thank her for introducing me to curling. Maybe we'll play a mixed-doubles game together someday.

And NBC's Olympic coverage? Everybody on the West Coast complained so much about not being able to watch live events in their own time zone for those two weeks, everything's available on webcasts and mobile coverage this time around. Hopefully it won't be run by the same guys who put on the Olympic curling trials.

photos courtesy: dakotabackcountry.com, cheryl-bernard.blogspot.com, and tofashionistas.com