During the Winter Olympics only one sport made heads turn every time the scrape of the ice was heard. That sport that I am talking about, of course, is curling.
Curling: the art of competitive ice sweeping. Anyone can do it, but, as I learned from my endeavors, few can master it.
But first, a brief history lesson. Contrary to common belief, curling was not invented in Canada. Curling originated in late medieval Scotland, played on frozen ponds with flat river stones and first joined the Olympics as an official sport in 1998.
Thanks to the Olympics, the sport’s popularity is arguably now at its peak. The rinks at The Gardens Ice House in Laurel where the Potomac Curling Club is located was packed with first timers like me and experienced veterans alike. There was even a writer for the Loyola University newspaper there writing an article similar to mine.
“Definitely all clubs see an increase in interest and membership after every winter Olympics,” said Virginia Chalmer, Potomac Curling Club’s Junior Program coordinator. “Anticipating this jump in attention every four years has become a major part of every club’s planning.”
Fortunately, I was able to get right out on the ice, but the Potomac Curling Club was merciful. Instead of expecting everyone to go right out and play games,they put the first timers through drills to get us used to simply standing on the ice with our “sliders” and, while I did not struggle to stand, it was evident that these drills were helpful to many.
After about an hour of learning the basics of sweeping and throwing the stones, I was ready to jump in and play a few ends. During the first end, I played the role of skip, essentially the captain of the team. As skip, my job was to direct the thrower where to throw the stone and how to curl it and tell the sweepers how much to sweep.
As skip, I also had the pressure of my entire team on me as I was throwing last. With an empty house I had the opportunity to put the first point on the board and, unlike with baseball, it turns out I was a natural. Like Greivis Vasquez, I thrived off of the pressure and kept myself from becoming John Shuster, the most infamous curler in the world.
After another end where I took the role of vice, one of the sweepers, my team held on for the 1-0 victory in my curling debut. While sweeping was probably the most difficult part of the game, I did fall once (hey, those stones are tough to keep up on ice), I attribute the scoreless second end to my absence at skip and the lack of guidance the throwers were left with.
The true beauty of curling has to be the environment. There is no friendlier group of athletes than curlers and there is no other sport, other than maybe wiffle ball, which allows you to eat cookies and drink soda while you play. And to those who criticize the sport, why don’t you go out and try to sweep exactly as hard as the skip tells you for an eight-ender to get the stone to settle at the tee?